E-commerce boom ‘huge’ export opportunity for SMEs – ITC

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THE e-commerce boom is leveling the export field for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries like the Philippines, but the government needs to lend a hand to these exporters to help them take advantage of this huge opportunity, the International Trade Center (ITC) said in a report released January 13.

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The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development has said that developing countries should grasp the rapidly growing opportunity of electronic commerce — worth around $22.1 trillion in 2015, up nearly 40 percent from 2013 — or risk falling quickly behind.

The ITC said that as more and more people turn to online marketplaces to buy goods, exporters need to strategize how they can stand out.

“Going online can give even the smallest businesses a big boost,” ITC said.

Eben Sermon, eBay’s vice president for Europe and emerging markets, said that sellers must be able to give what buyers are looking for, particularly a unique inventory.

“Those buyers want to be able to shop the world. But they also want increasingly to have an engaging experience. This means telling the story of the sellers, explaining the origin of the products in more interesting ways. And there are multiple technologies to allow you to do that,” he said.

Sermon also underscored the importance of quality. When listing an item on a marketplace or a website, he said sellers must make sure the photography is good and that they “tell the story of the product, tell a story of yourself, the entrepreneur.”

He also highlighted using clear, precise language when talking about shipping returns, pricing and other conditions and specifications.

Exporters are also urged to think carefully about the goods they want to sell. “And check there’s demand first before placing any significant inventory order.”

He advised exporters to work with the online marketplace, noting it provides a low-cost venue for entry to markets. “Then you get access to a very, very large number of buyers with minimal financial outlay up front.”

He also predicts the increasing role of mobile devices. “We have a very high proportion of our sales that are touched by mobile. We expect the number of connected devices and screens to grow exponentially, trillions of connected devices and screens in the coming years.”

Meanwhile, DHL executive Stephano Arganese advises SMEs to organize themselves into cooperatives in order to bundle their volumes and share transport costs.

He said it would be ideal to have a small warehouse or storage space in the destination market “so that when people order online, their goods can be shipped within 24 hours.”

Both executives stressed the role of the govern ment in the successful entry of SMEs in the online marketplace.

Sermon said the government can help small businesses by partnering more on things like aligning duties and customs, simplifying VAT regulations, and supporting the case for exports and online selling.

Arganese underlined the importance of government efforts in fast-tracking business transactions in order to help SMEs, particularly by forging trade facilitation agreements.

“That would facilitate everything which is related to cross-border activities, customs and the like,” he pointed out.

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