Thursday, July 18, 2013

Making the Most of the Marketplace – Taking SMEs Online

By Masaya Ueno, President and Chief Executive Officer, Rakuten Online Shopping

With over 1.6 million people shopping online in Malaysia , the online space presents a wealth of opportunities for local small and medium enterprises (SMEs). There is a strong potential to help SMEs grow by bringing their businesses online, thanks to strong support from the Malaysian government. This year’s Budget 2013 announced a fund of RM1 billion  that will be provided under the SME Development Scheme, to be managed by the SME Bank in a bid to accelerate the growth of SME and the expansion of industrial areas nationwide.

A PayPal study showed that Malaysia’s online commerce market grew 9% from RM1.8 billion in 2010 to RM1.97 billion in 2011 . With continued growth in the online retail market, it’s surprising to find that only 15 per cent of Malaysian SMEs have a website, according to Nielsen Research .

Small retailers seem to be mistaking the internet as a tool for large enterprises. For small retailers seeking growth, the online channel offers huge advantages; from reaching new audiences to promoting new products. Remember, small businesses don’t need to do it alone; marketplaces can support retailers looking to sell online without incurring the maintenance and marketing costs of running websites on their own. However, just like a physical store getting the online shopping experience right is still crucial to build loyal customer relationships. Here’s how to make the most of selling online through a marketplace:

Drive footfall online
Just like having a prime location in a major shopping mall, a marketplace can drive new footfall to your business. Not only do marketplace sellers benefit by association from consumer trust in a marketplace brand, they also stand to benefit from strong web traffic generated by the marketplace’s own marketing efforts. In addition merchants can take advantage of the existing infrastructure, from ready-made payments processes to marketplace loyalty schemes.

Curate your product collections
Just as the high street is governed by the seasons, so is the online world and your online offering should reflect this. Tap into seasonal occasions like Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Chinese New Year to theme your online shop window and engage shoppers using your most eye-catching products. From back to work outfits and shoes to products that will update people’s homes, kitchens and living rooms, seasonal promotions allow you to direct shoppers to particular products and purchase a range of themed items.

Stay independent through customisation
You pop into a store as you walk past because the window looks bright, colourful and exciting. Similarly, your homepage acts as your window display, so you need to make it appealing to encourage online shoppers to click through. Some marketplaces offer the option to customise your storefront and this should be taken advantage of. From choosing which products should be most visible to mirroring your brand colours from the offline world. Customising your online store enables you to make it an extension of your physical shop and maintain individual brand identity at the same time.

Use social media to drive sales
Retailers can not only use eye-catching collections to draw shoppers in, but can actively promote products through social channels to tempt loyal followers of the brand to check out the new season’s lines. Having a presence on Twitter and Facebook is a brilliant way to shout about your venture into an online marketplace and can also be used to showcase happy customers. Engage with them via social media after they have made a purchase, enquire about their shopping experience and offer tailored promotions and discounts to keep them coming back to your brand.

Give great customer service
Shoppers now want a full shopping experience online, not just a ‘cash and carry’ attitude, so setting up the right online shopping experience is becoming even more important. For example, many retailers offer ‘collect in-store’ services to meet their consumers’ delivery needs. Encourage online reviews and act on customer feedback to show customers that you value their custom. You could also offer tips on how to pair clothing for outfits; with personal insight shoppers are much more likely to purchase from you again.

Ultimately, all retailers need to have an online presence, or they risk missing out on the opportunities that this continually growing channel offers. However, this doesn’t mean that their offline sales or brand experience needs to suffer. Marketplaces create another touch point for shoppers to browse and buy from which is convenient, trusted and reliable but this should be part of an integrated and seamless multi-channel offering. Consumers are coming to expect a seamless shopping experience across all channels so it’s no longer enough to have a website that merely compliments your brick-and-mortar presence. By taking advantage of the services that online retail offers, SMEs can develop their digital presence and connect people with their local high street too to provide a full brand experience.

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