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For small retailers, technology is key to prosperity

For small retailers, technology is key to prosperity

 

The world of business is digital, and now even local mum-and-dad shops have no excuse to languish in a bygone analogue era. Utilising technology, online and off, means connecting with a broader customer base, providing a better quality of service and boosting growth, both in terms of operations and revenue.

There’s a persistent misconception that technology presents a threat to small retailers rather than an opportunity. Despite the ubiquity of smartphones and the internet, in the minds of many small business owners, anything more complicated than Microsoft Office is reserved for dedicated professionals dabbling in the arcane magic of computer programming.

The reality is a lot different. Even technologies that sound complicated—like e-commerce and data analytics—can be as accessible and straightforward as Facebook, and there are many inexpensive options to set small businesses on their way to growth.

For small retailers struggling to come to terms with technology, we’ve prepared a brief set of pointers.

Claim your patch of internet

Claiming your patch of internet by building a website lets customers find you online, familiarise themselves with your services and learn more about you as a company. It also gives you an instant credibility boost.

A staggering 1 in 6 Irish SMEs still have no website, despite the clear advantages they bring.* This sends a bad signal to customers, especially if they’ve looked you up for information.

Worse is having a badly designed or broken website—this, by association, makes your business look sloppy and uninterested. Tools like Wix and WordPress let you build modern websites with pictures, video, blogs and more, even if you have absolutely no programming experience.

Embrace e-commerce

E-commerce—that is, buying and selling online—is big business. In 2015, Irish consumers spent €6.5 billion in online stores around the world from their laptops, phones and tablets. That figure is set to rise to €21 billion by 2020.

Ireland is a tightly knitted, local place. Small family-owned retailers, particularly in rural areas, benefit from tangible, personal relationships with their customers—but they must not grow complacent.

The rise of the internet means that even in the countryside, it can be just as convenient to buy online from a shop in Dublin, or even London, and have it delivered the next day, than drive to the nearest town and pick from a smaller stock.

The internet is a global shopping centre open all hours, every day of the year. It’s easy to join, but if you’re not part of it, you risk losing out to your digitally savvy competitors.

This doesn’t necessarily mean going head to head with an Amazon or Asos, but instead making sure you’re keeping pace with other small retailers who have already recognised the potential of e-commerce in creating an additional revenue stream for the business.

Integrating e-commerce platforms from a merchant services company or from a PayPal and eBay into your website is straightforward, allowing you to sell your products all over the world even while you’re curled up in bed. Irish start-up Pointy automatically generates an online store for you using your barcode scanner, letting shoppers know what you have in stock.

Go social

64% of Irish people use Facebook, and almost 30% use Twitter.** These numbers are growing, and the rise of apps like Instagram and Snapchat, especially among young people, present unique opportunities to market goods and services.

With strategy and a great deal of patience, it’s possible to grow a big following on Facebook and Twitter without even paying for sponsored messages. The greatest value of social media is the ability to form human connections with individual customers. Users value insightful, humorous content.  By presenting the lighter side of your business, you’re far more likely to engage customers, keep them loyal, and build brand awareness.

Encouragingly, many of the most popular brands on social media are actually small retailers, bars, restaurants and coffee shops.  This is often because they can take more risks, and be more creative, flexible and topical in how they present themselves on the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and increasingly, Snapchat.

Kerrigan’s Butchers in Co Dublin, Sober Lane in Cork, Sheridan’s Cheesemongers in Meath and Folkster vintage shop in Kilkenny are all good examples of family retailers who have successfully utilised social media to grow their business beyond their immediate locality.

Making life easier

Most small retailers are hard pressed for cash, so it’s important that every business process is as efficient and cost-effective as possible. Beyond websites and social networks, there are many tools and technologies you can use to make your life as a business owner more productive.

In store, contactless payment technology lets you process customer card payments quickly, and saves you the hassle and risk of handling cash and the time needed to process a traditional card payment.

According to findings from our recent survey on attitudes to contactless payment, despite the technology being introduced to Ireland less than three years ago, already more than half (54%) of the population use it (45% more than once a week), primarily to pay for groceries, fuel and clothes.

In the office, staples like Sage and QuickBooks make accounting, including taxes and invoicing, manageable, while shift management software from Irish start-up Bizimply lets you edit staff rosters using a very straightforward drag-and-drop interface.

Brian Cleary is General Manager at BOI Payment Acceptance, a payments technology alliance between Bank of Ireland and EVO Payments International.

 

* IEDR Digital Health Index, June 2016

** IPSOS MRBI Social Networking Tracker, April 2016

ENDS