The economic impact of COVID-19 has been immense, but one thing is clear: it has driven Irish shoppers online. With Christmas fast approaching and Irish consumers motivated to ‘Buy Irish’, how can you get your business set up to sell online?
Research published by Visa shows that one in five (21pc) Irish consumers surveyed plan to do most of their shopping online this Christmas due to COVID-19. Yet more than a quarter (28pc) of Irish small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are unprepared to take on the holiday season influx of sales, and only 12pc of small businesses are planning to digitise their business to meet demand.
Similar research from Virgin Media reveals just how digitalised Irish consumers have become since the pandemic began, with more than half confirming they now shop online more than they ever did previously. No doubt Level 5 restrictions will accelerate this.
“There is unprecedented goodwill in the market towards Irish retailers and products at present – Irish consumers want to support Irish retailers to sustain Irish jobs and communities.”
The same Virgin research indicates that the average amount spent by an Irish person online in the past month was €245.
Central Bank Data last year recorded online spending of €15bn for the first three quarters of 2019. Worryingly, at least 60pc of online spending in Ireland is understood to flow out of Ireland, according to the E-commerce Association of Ireland.
If you are not selling online by now, perhaps it’s time you looked into it.
Why you must get your business online
To get the message out to SMEs, Bank of Ireland is collaborating with online shopping platform Shopify as well as Pointy, the Irish platform recently acquired by Google that helps shoppers find via the internet the products they need in your physical store, and the E-commerce Association of Ireland.
Owen Clifford, head of Retail Sector at Bank of Ireland, emphasised that the new direction of retail is omnichannel – including web and mobile as well as the physical bricks and mortar store – and that all of these methods need to complement and reinforce each other.
“The author William Gibson once wrote that ‘the Future is already here – it’s just not distributed equally.’ Shopper behaviour and the retail sector in general are always evolving and in recent years this has led to an omni-channel offering becoming more prevalent.
“COVID-19 has accelerated this evolution even further and consumers now expect a complementary blend of digital and physical platforms from their preferred retailers. If retailers want to maintain customer engagement, they need to strongly consider providing a digital offering.
“The move into digital needs to be considered and complementary to their existing offering. Less is more from a range perspective and meeting customer expectations in respect of delivery and quality/provenance of product are imperative,” said Clifford.
“There is unprecedented goodwill in the market towards Irish retailers and products at present – Irish consumers want to support Irish retailers to sustain Irish jobs and communities. It is a great time to deliver a digital offering to the market. As always, strong engagement with your core target customer pre and post launch is key to maximise your profile and ensure that your offering is tailored to deliver an excellent customer experience,” Clifford said.
“It’s imperative that every single firm trades online, whether B2B or B2C. There is no ‘should I’ in this scenario. The question is when.”
Niall Bodkin from the E-commerce Association of Ireland (eCAI) underlined the importance of Irish SMEs selling online. “It’s imperative that every single firm trades online, whether B2B or B2C. There is no ‘should I’ in this scenario. It’s a matter of when.
“All businesses will move trade online in some form eventually. Do you get in now or do you wait until after your competitors have secured their foothold and advantage over you?”
eCAI is currently driving an initiative called ThinkIrish which ultimately aims to create an easy way to access up to 6,000 Irish businesses who are selling online.
“The high street needs to change and adapt. They need to do this now. They need to do this together. No one business can tackle the might of some of the global eCommerce giants we know. A co-ordinated approach led by professionals from all disciplines need to agree on a strategy. That is what the eCAI is trying to achieve with ThinkIrish. We will be holding seminars to talk this matter through and offer a clear alternative.
“We can’t tell shoppers what to do. Amazon is not evil. It’s amazing to use and people love it and want it. We need to offer an alternative that breaks down those reasons why shoppers are reaching to foreign e-commerce. We need to win that business back and make sure the high street is the central point of service for all our e-commerce needs.”
How to get online quickly and easily
“Customers are in their pyjamas sipping wine shopping from your competitors. What are you doing to compete with that?”
E-commerce platform Shopify, which located its international operations in Galway a few years ago, provides an online marketplace for more than 1m businesses worldwide. Earlier this year Shopify launched a new app, called Shop, which aims to help users find local businesses with an online presence such as bookshops, craft stores, clothing stores and cosmetics businesses.
Eamon Brett, senior lead for Shopify in Ireland said that if Irish SMEs are looking at a long-term sustainable business model, it has to include online in some way.
“If you look at every customer who has been in your store – remember they have a mobile phone where they can buy from you again that evening while they’re scrolling through social networks online. And if not from you then from whom?”
Brett said that online shopping and supporting local businesses will be the two trends that will continue post-COVID-19.
“Consumer behaviour shifted long before COVID-19 and lockdowns have just increased the pace at which those ‘Add to Carts’ and checkouts are the go-to option for everything from essential bits and bobs to high ticket items. Just ask any delivery company or postal worker and they will tell you the volume of packages is staggering, a lot of them with Chinese labels. Customers are in their pyjamas sipping wine shopping from your competitors. What are you doing to compete with that?”
Irish company Pointy was acquired by Google earlier this year. Pointy’s technology enables retailers to make their stock visible online without the need to invest in a full e-commerce system. Pointy is a small device that sits between a barcode scanner and a till and the retailer just scans as normal. The app directs shoppers to where particular items they are interested in are available locally.
Having an online presence for your business can definitely have a big impact,” said Caroline Brady, head of Pointy Marketing at Google.
“A retailer doesn’t necessarily need to set up a full ecommerce website in order to have an online presence for their store. There’s a lot of value in being able to show people the products you have available before they visit the physical store. We’re seeing more and more especially during the pandemic that people want to be able to go online and see where a product is available before leaving home. It’s not just about convenience anymore, there’s also a health consideration. I think that if local retailers really want to meet the needs of their customers then making their in-store products visible online is a great first step.”
Resources to get your business selling online
The eCAI offers its members access to the eComHub, a business network and ThinkIrish, a directory for genuine Irish websites.
“Sellers of any type, can join ThinkIrish for free and list their website and upload ‘offers for shoppers’ on the ThinkIrish directory,” explained Niall Bodkin from eCAI. “During COVID we are also giving free eCAI membership worth €120. ThinkIrish is not just about shouting ‘Hi, Im Irish’, it’s about developing ways to offer an alternative to eCommerce giants and winning the 60pc of business that is currently going abroad.
“Our eComHub is a peer to peer learning environment where we encourage members to join, connect and interact with each other. Just like the very best product reviews come from other customers, the very best advice and recommendations you can get for your business is from other sellers.
“When we first started, we asked our members what they wanted. They overwhelmingly said they wanted to learn and connect. That’s what we have given them.”
Shopify is an all-in-one commerce platform that enables you to start, run, or grow your business, including hosting and a SSL cert for all plans at no extra cost.
“No matter how big or small your business, Shopify can flex to fit. We aim to take out the hassle and give you the tools you need. You can see a rundown of the features here and we have a 24/7 support team on hand to answer any questions and help you as you get to grips with the platform.
“The easiest way to understand how straightforward it can be is to sign up for a free trial and play around with the back-office admin view that manages the store operations. From there you can decide where you’re going to be listing the products – your own online store, or a Facebook page, or embedded buy buttons for other online spaces. We want you to be able to sell everywhere you want.
“We have help guides and videos to walk you through anything you don’t immediately figure out whether you’re brand new to business: (see here) or an existing businesses looking to pivot online (see here),” said Brett.
Pointy is a non-ecommerce solution that’s perfect for retailers who want to show their in-store products online and direct people to their physical store to purchase.
“The beauty of Pointy is that it requires very little maintenance on the part of the retailer,” explains Brady.
“They connect a small device called a Pointy box in between their barcode scanner and till and continue scanning their products as normal. As they scan products, Pointy pulls the correct name and image from the barcode number and adds it to the store’s own Pointy Page. This is essentially a website that we create and it shows an up to date list of the products they have in stock along with other information like opening hours and contact details. The service was built with local retailers in mind – many of them might not have the resources or the time to set up and maintain a full e-commerce website. With Pointy they can start to build an online presence with very little work on their part and use it to drive more customers into their physical brick and mortar store.”