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10 November 2015 | 0

Billy MacInnesDo you remember seeing this statement, ‘91% of Irish SME websites cannot process sales’? You may have seen it in April this year or you may have seen it at the end of last months.

The figures are from a survey commissioned by IEDR, the company which manages Ireland’s .ie domain registry, the key findings from which were first revealed in a blog post on the organisation’s website dated 19 April.

At first sight, those figures seem quite shocking, especially as the survey found that 37% of SMEs don’t have a website or any online presence at all. Still, maybe there’s not much pressure on them to do so when 91% of those that do have websites can’t use them to take and process sales.

The survey revealed that just over half of SMEs with websites could not interact directly with customers through social media or webchat, 54% did not have responsive website designs for tablets or smartphones, and 66% did not have video content on their website.

In April David Curtin, chief executive of IEDR, made the very reasonable point that “in an ever more global economy, the absence of an online sales presence puts Irish businesses at a huge disadvantage to competitors. It acts as a major disincentive to attracting customers, for whom buying online is now the norm”.

All very true but these things are relative. From a global perspective, Irish SMEs might appear to be website laggards but in direct comparison with their immediate (and more local) rivals, they might appear pretty much the same.

That’s not to say they shouldn’t be focusing on having a website that can take and process sales and provide a level of interaction with customers, but it would appear that, so far at least, they don’t feel a powerful enough incentive to do so at the expense of other parts of their day-to-day business.

I don’t think you can accuse SMEs of not recognising the potential value of websites as a means of generating sales – the survey found 73% thought their website was important or very important in that respect – it’s just that they don’t seem to have got around to making it possible yet.

This may well be very foolish of them. But it might also be the case that many of them just aren’t set up to start working with customers on a global basis. Maybe they want to keep their business within Ireland for now. Let’s be honest, some of them might be happy enough keeping to their own county.

There are probably many thousands, if not millions, of potential SME competitors in other parts of the globe with exactly the same sentiment. We may live in an ever more global economy, but there are practical limits to just how global that economy can get. For example, would an Irish SME in Galway with a website that could process sales really present a serious threat to the livelihood of an SME in Buffalo, New York? I doubt it.

A lot of SMEs rely on a local presence and service for the bulk of their business. That’s not an accident. It’s part of their DNA and why they survive and thrive. They have a responsibility to ensure that they serve the customers who helped to build them up in the way that they want to be served. It may well be, still, that many of those customers like to deal with local companies in person and at their premises. It may well be that customers have to deal with them like that.

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