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How technology can help smaller businesses compete on the global ecommerce stage

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If anyone could be said to have invented the future it was Alan Turing. He created a wartime code-breaking machine that was the basis for all computer technology. By imagining a machine that could solve all conceivable mathematical problems, Turing had invented the concept of the programmable computer years before anyone could even see how to build one. 

Other famous British inventors that immediately spring to mind include Frank Whittle, Joseph Banks and Isaac Newton, and there are many more that I could add to this impressive list. 

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With the recession firmly behind us and as we look ahead and prepare to take advantage of better economic times, I wonder how we in the UK can continue to utilise our inherent strengths such as entrepreneurship, knowledge, creativity, culture, music, sport, innovation and shopping.

Wait, shopping?! I hear you cry. The expression “a nation of shopkeepers” was in fact made famous by Napoleon to describe the UK and although the description was often seen as a disparaging one, Napoleon claimed that it was not intended to be so. According to him, it was merely a statement of the obvious fact that British power was derived from commerce and not from the extent of its lands nor its population.

So how can we harness this appetite for commerce as we look to the future? I’ve been watching with interest the “Britain is Great” campaign launched by Central Government a couple of years ago, which is aimed at helping SMEs in particular get ahead. This is important as SMEs account for 60 per cent of private sector employment. 

Part of this campaign has focused on helping small businesses and micro-businesses “Do More Online”. The “Do More Online” campaign included £2m of funding to 22 projects through Local Enterprise Partnerships to help small businesses increase their digital presence. At the time Simon Devonshire, the government’s entrepreneur-in-residence, said: “There are now 5.2m businesses in the UK, the first time the UK business population has gone over 5m. And yet government data suggests that worryingly, more than 2m are yet to get online, and that only a third of UK businesses have a transactional website.” 

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I was surprised by this statement. Not only does the UK lead the world as an entrepreneurial nation but especially in technology, product design and innovation. As an organisation that is deeply immersed in technology it made me wonder why? I can’t imagine a business not being online. Do these 2m companies consider that it will be cost prohibitive or do they just not see the business advantages? And equally, do they not consider it a threat to their businesses if they don’t get online?

The popularity of online shopping is now incredibly high. If retailers are going to successfully manage their online sales volumes, and provide a range of delivering options while keeping the cost of despatch and delivery down, they need to ensure they are automating and streamlining their processes. 

Technology has levelled the playing field in the ecommerce world and retailers both large and small now compete side by side for the same share of the customer wallet. I will be interested to read how the “Do More Online” statistics have changed this year and hope that more of those 2m businesses are moving online so that the UK maintains its status as “a nation of shopkeepers” and continues to compete on a global stage.

Becky Clark is CEO of NetDespatch.

Image: Shutterstock

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