As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, retailers have been required to adapt quickly to ensure that their online market place is established, up-to-date and secure not only in order to continue to sell their goods, but to keep their brand relevant and active as the economy remains in this uncertain period.
Online revenues have experienced significant growth since the outbreak of COVID-19, while retailers have had to build their online capabilities as well as increasing capacity to service growing demand. The retail sector has been managing increased online volumes while some have needed to close for a period of time in order to ensure safe employee working conditions.
While cloud service providers such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform can allow for online retail stores to be set up and expanded quickly, the daunting shift to a focus on online commerce within a short space of time has been a source of considerable difficulty and expense particularly for small businesses who did not have an online retail option prior to the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.
For businesses with limited or no online presence and who have ten employees or less, local enterprise offices offer a Trading Online Voucher Scheme for a value of up to €2,500, in addition to providing training and advice to assist businesses establish an online retail platform. Businesses which have already received a Trading Online Voucher can now apply for a second voucher, where upgrades are required.
For small retail companies who already have an online presence and employ more than ten people the launch of the COVID-19 Online Retail Scheme on 30 April 2020 operated by Enterprise Ireland will be a welcome aid to boosting the retailer’s online presence, providing financial support for successful applicants of up to 80% of eligible project costs, with funding ranging from €10,000 to €40,000. The funding can be used for salary costs and consultancy fees to develop a digital strategy, enhancing the retailer’s website, or providing training.
A number of organisations have also begun to offer online training courses designed to assist businesses in their transition to online-based retail, including:
- Facebook offer a ‘Boost with Facebook’ platform providing free webinars and marketing advices designed to assist business in increasing their online presence;
- Digital Marketing Institute offer a number of digital and social media marketing courses;
- The Irish SME Association in collaboration with Griffith College offer a series of free online webinars designed to provide management skills and tools to operate business successfully in a COVID-19 economy; and
- The E-Commerce Association of Ireland is in the process of launching a new task force designed to pair new online traders with experienced mentors for five-hour sessions.
Consumer protection legislation must also be considered. To give one example, in relation to delivery of products to the consumer, a consumer which purchased a product from a retailer based in the EU is entitled to delivery within 30 days (unless a different time is agreed at the time of purchase), and if the product is not delivered to the consumer within this time frame the consumer is entitled to either agree a new delivery date, or cancel the contract and receive a full refund.
In a post-COVID-19 economy, industry consensus is that it is likely that the shift in consumer’s behaviour to a predominantly online platform will outlast the pandemic. Consumers have seen how online retail can be a credible alternative to brick-and-mortar stores, and this shift is likely to continue after this crisis is over as both retailers and brands build their online capacity and capability. Retailers that invest time to understand this sentiment and plan accordingly will survive and succeed in the difficult months ahead, as the retailers who emerge stronger will be those which adapt to the shifting consumer perspective.
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This article is for general information purposes. Legal advice must be obtained for individual circumstances. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this article, no liability is accepted by the author for any inaccuracies.
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