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Meeting the challenges faced by rural businesses through ecommerce

Small rural businesses have it tough and tend to rely more on traditional processes; whether that’s just selling locally, relying on word of mouth, or banking in person at the local branch.
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The upcoming Amazon Academy event in Edinburgh aims to help rural SME owners take their business to the next stage by giving practical advice on ecommerce to ensure they can compete on a level playing field.

Small rural businesses have it tough and tend to rely more on traditional processes; whether that’s just selling locally, relying on word of mouth, or banking in person at the local branch.

With trends towards digital processes and ecommerce skyrocketing in recent years, this problem has become more pronounced than ever. The problem for rural businesses is twofold: firstly, there is a “brain drain” as more young, talented people flock to the cities to earn a living; and secondly, cities receive a large chunk investment and have better infrastructure. As such, as the cities’ economies get stronger, those on the outskirts get left behind.

Of course, with the right support, it doesn’t have to be that way. Amazon is hosting their Amazon Academy in Edinburgh on 23 May to provide small businesses practical advice on online services readily available to them that are needed to compete in the digital age.

“I believe we’re now at a turning point for the rural economy as the digital revolution starts to bridge the urban-rural divide,” said Doug Gurr, UK Country Manager, Amazon. “The potential is incredible if you know how to access what’s out there. A small business working from their home in the countryside has the same opportunity to reach millions of customers around the world as a well-established retailer and publisher, with easy access to a global digital and physical infrastructure to reach those customers. Indeed, over 373,000 businesses and creative professions are currently doing exactly that, and last year over £1.8bn of exports were achieved by UK-based Amazon Marketplace sellers from all over the country, urban and rural.”

There are still challenges associated with acquiring the necessary infrastructure, such as access to fast broadband, but the future has never looked brighter.

Sign up to the free Amazon Academy event here.

Broadband can up your game

Businesses in urban areas often take access to super-fast broadband for granted, but it can be a real barrier to entry for a lot of rural businesses. Gaining access can be a game-changer – and it’s not just about being “more efficient”, which can sound like a vague benefit. It offers real, tangible results.

Gurr explains: “In Cornwall, where superfast broadband coverage is provided to almost 90 pc of households and businesses, research published by SERIO at Plymouth University found that upgrading to superfast internet generated a 30pc average increase in productivity for businesses there.

“Offering services like next-day delivery and allowing SMEs to reach millions of customers without leaving their homes or offices opens up an entirely new world, but all of that can only happen if you have the right infrastructure in place to support those services.”

Increasingly however, broadband isn’t just something a business needs access to up its game – it’s a necessity. Recent bank branch closures in rural areas have hammered this point home.

“It is very worrying to see yet more local bank branches being shut down, leaving small business customers without the services they rely on,” said Federation of Small Businesses chairman, Mike Cherry.
“Cash still remains an important element of many small firms and it needs to be banked at the end of the day. For some small businesses online banking is not always a viable substitute, not least because of poor broadband coverage in many rural areas.”

Bridging the skills gap

There is a skills gap in the UK, and there just simply isn’t enough technology talent to go around. This can make recruiting for small businesses a challenge, doubly so for rural small businesses.

These days, you don’t just need an understanding of the internet and technology if you’re a tech company – you need it for day-to-day operations, for relatively simple things like running a website, using social media to engage with customers, and selling online. There are many necessary digital skills, and given the shortage of supply, many businesses have turned to in-house training and upskilling existing employees.

However, Gurr believes making digital services as user-friendly and easily accessible as possible is key to getting more small businesses taking up the digital opportunity to grow their business. “In the same way our mission is to constantly innovate on behalf of our customers to provide the best selection, value and convenience, we also take this approach with services we invent to empower small businesses. Our Fulfilment by Amazon service for example, takes on the task of logistics, customer service, and product returns so businesses selling on Amazon Marketplace can focus on coming up with great products and ideas.”

The Amazon Academy gives businesses the chance to learn how to do just that – it’s all about helping small businesses build digital skills to optimise sales. The event will help business owners learn all about Amazon Marketplace to get them selling online, Amazon Web Services to give them access to cloud computing services, and new innovative services such as Alexa, Amazon’s new cloud-based voice service.

Sign up for your free ticket to the Amazon Academy in Edinburgh today.

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About Author

Letitia Booty

Letitia Booty is a special projects journalist for Real Business. She has a BA in english literature from the University of East Anglia, and since graduating she has written for a variety of trade titles. Most recently, she was a reporter at SME magazine.

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