As far as brand perception is concerned, when properly executed, an e-commerce presence can reinforce your company’s brand, bringing it to a wider audience, and establishing deeper customer loyalty and engagement.

With fewer than one in four Irish SMEs are currently selling on the web. James Gargan, a director of Continuum, considers why...

In today’s uncertain economy, e-commerce is a lifeline connecting Irish companies to new markets. Today’s consumers are fust as likely to turn to the web as to the high street when it comes to researching and purchasing products and services. Research from the Pew Internet & American Life project has repeatedly shown how more than one in two consumers research online before buying, and similar trends have been seen elsewhere.

Although Ireland’s overall e-commerce presence is growing, our bricks-and-mortar business community still has some catching up to do when it comes to embracing the potential of selling online. In fact, fewer than one in four Irish SMEs are currently selling on the web, according to the IE Domain Registry.

What’s the reason for this reluctance? Sometimes, companies are holding back because they’re not convinced e-commerce is right for them. Often, they don’t believe their customers want to buy online. That notion persists despite a sharp increase in web-based purchasing in both business-to-business and business-to-consumer retail environments. Forrester Research has forecast continued growth for online retail in both the US and Western Europe – increasing by 10 per cent every year to 2015.

Myths about cost and brand

Some companies tend to perceive e-commerce as a costly investment, not realising the revenue potential that adding “clicks” to their bricksand-mortar strategies can offer. Others are worried about diluting their brand, assuming it’s impossible to recreate the personalised service their customers enjoy when shopping in a physical store.

In both cases, the opposite can be true. You can expect to invest between €8,000 and €20,000 for a truly effective, world-class e-commerce system. No two websites are the same, so the final price will depend on the complexity of your needs. The more features you need, the more your site will cost to develop but that investment is usually recouped within six to 12 months through online sales revenues and new customer acquisition.

As far as brand perception is concerned, when properly executed, an e-commerce presence can reinforce your company’s brand, bringing it to a wider audience, and establishing deeper customer loyalty and engagement (see panel over).

Building trust

Building a perception of trust is especially vital when targeting customers based beyond Ireland, since their impression of your website is all they have to go on. Your web store should inspire confidence in your company in order for would be buyers to commit to a sale. There is no precise formula to follow but there are some basics that ought to be as a minimum. A professionally designed website is a good starting place, reinforced through strong, prominently displayed customer service calls to action such as a no-hassle returns policy, contact addresses and telephone numbers, and logos of secure payments partners such as Realex, PayPal or Worldpay TPS. Displaying a SSL cert from Verisign or Comodo also strengthens the impression you make as a bona fide operator.

Adding clicks to bricks

Choosing the right partner to deliver the project is critical. Your decision should be based on a provider with both the technical knowledge and the marketing expertise to help you implement the right solution for your business.

The shift to e-commerce is changing the way the world does business. But with rare exceptions, it’s not a case of clicks replacing bricks. Smart businesses will approach e-commerce strategically as a way to complement and strengthen their existing sales channels, throwing the door wide open to invite more customers.