Is E-Commerce The Right Answer For Jamaican MSME'S? Let's Talk About It
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Contributed by Kadia Francis, Digital Strategist, Blogger and Podcaster
I'm sure you've heard the term eCommerce before, more so in the local news now that Caribbean heads have seemingly only recently realized that there is such a thing as the Digital economy (and that we are tragically behind). But what does it actually mean, eCommerce? Both in terms of a cohesive understandable definition and impact?
Well, that's what I'm going to try to detangle for you in this article. And, because my opinions are just that, I try to nuance these conversations so my readers are always fully informed. So, in the spirit of full disclosure, I will also be discussing some of the issues Jamaican Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) will face in acclimatising to the eCommerce space.
What is eCommerce
Put simply, eCommerce, or electronic commerce, is the trade of goods and services over the internet using digital devices (hence electronic) and encompasses all the activities involved in making that happen. That includes everything leading up to, during and after that electronic transaction - the marketing, the sales channels, the platforms, distribution, delivery and most importantly, the data that is exchanged each step of the way.
The eCommerce Impact
Now that you have a basic idea of what eCommerce is let's talk about why it's so Impactful. Full disclosure, I am a sucker for statistics and what that data can tell us about trends. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of information to be found on eCommerce activities regionally (we are very bad at collecting data, period), however, there are reliable global stats that show us a couple of things.
There are upwards of 1.9 billion e-buyers globally, 57% of that number has made purchases from overseas retailers
There are between 12M to 24M eCommerce sites online
To date, global retail eCommerce sales have surpassed three (3) trillion US dollars which translates to roughly 13.2% of global retail sales
It is anticipated that there will be a 15% year on year (yoy) growth in eCommerce sales and that by 2021 global retail eCommerce sales will be upwards of four (4) trillion US dollars
The Big 5 categories responsible for generating the most digital sales are (and in this order), fashion at 61%, travel at 59%, books and music at 49%, IT & Mobile at 47% and events tickets at 45%
mCommerce or mobile commerce is rapidly becoming the preferred method for digital transactions and it is anticipated that by 2021 will account for more than 72% of all eCommerce sales
If you're picking up what I'm putting down, you should by now have a pretty good understanding of just how significant a phenomenon digital commerce is, how impactful it has been on globalism and how it is shaping the future of business globally.
Why should Jamaican MSMES Care?
I've said it once and I'll say it as many times as it takes for the message to sink in, the internet represents for small island states like ours the best and most advantageous self-generated opportunities for survival in an increasingly global, digital and tech-dominated world.
So, unless Jamaica decides fi stop kip in the next say 10-15 years then we have to get our head in the digital economy game, like for real real and not just paying verbal homage. The good news is that given the numerous advantages of online trade, MSMEs are at a particular advantage.
Lower Barriers to Entry
Operating an online means lower barriers to entry because of reduced overheads, the unprecedented access to smart devices (113% in Jamaica) and the relatively high concentration of high-speed broadband Internet.
Consumer Behaviour Shift
Technology has shifted consumer behaviours, and in this digital era, consumer touchpoints have shifted to Google and social platforms. It's not just that more and more of us are preferring to shop online, it's how influential the recommendations of our digital communities are and how that feedback shapes our decision making processes.
"Digital technology has already permeated the path to purchase, as today's consumers use websites, social media, and mobile apps not only to research products, compare prices, and make purchases, but also to provide feedback to peers and even companies" WTO 2018 Report
Diversity & Customization
You can sell just about anything online including, bathwater, what's more, you're not limited to a physical product or a direct service. There is a huge market for e-services, services offered remotely or through digital applications such as virtual assisting, web development, social media management and so much more. There are also e-products, downloadable digital products such as audio recordings, ebooks, pdfs, music, the list goes on.
There is really no limit to the digital services or products you can provide and that diversity brings with it the ability to customize your offering to targeted or specific groups who would be willing to pay more for it.
"Consumers are becoming increasingly demanding and exhibiting a stronger taste for customized and personalized products tailored to their specific needs. For instance, almost one-fifth of consumers declare that they are willing to pay a 10 per cent premium to personalize products they purchase (Deloitte, 2015a)..." WTO 2018 Report
Cross Border Trade
Online transactions not only cuts out the middle man but removes other frustrations such as access to quality goods and services globally and the onerous importation and exportation process.
"... since cumbersome customs procedures are especially harmful to MSMEs, their simplification
would particularly foster the entry into the export market of small firms that would otherwise only sell in their domestic markets…" WTO 2018 Report
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of going digital is the opportunity it affords users to self promote, publish and sell our intellectual property
"A notable advantage of digitalization on the supply side is that it leads to a substantial decrease in the cost of entry, making it easier for firms to produce, promote and distribute media products such as music, films and television programmes in digital format at a lower cost. For instance, an artist can record a song using a basic microphone and inexpensive software, promote it on YouTube or Spotify and distribute it on iTunes for a relatively low price, while self-publishing platforms such as Kindle or Lulu offer an alternative to the traditional book publishing model. " WTO 2018 Report
But, and there's always a but in a tech shy country like ours, we are going to have challenges. One of the biggest has to do with an inadequate legal and policy framework that can sufficiently regulate this rapidly advancing space and how that inability affects consumer behaviour and banking policies.
That bit in the WTO report about data protection is particularly important especially since the rollout of the EU's General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). The far-reaching implications mean any business hoping to or who already does business with EU citizens (the world's largest trading block) has to be GDPR Compliant. Online businesses need to be extra careful if they have clients in the EU or are targeting that demographic.
"Innovations in cross-border payment systems have had their largest impact in developing countries and for MSMEs. Hence, the potential of new technologies to facilitate trade for MSMEs and developing countries disproportionately
can be large." WTO 2018 Report
Whilst there are several online payment options available (as in applications developed by local app and software developers) they are limited by the seeming unwillingness of the local banking industry to allow for full integration.
Now, we're left with two not so great options, PayPal - which is problematic given the time and rigmarole to get your money in hand, and direct bank transfer - which is problematic because of how adding an unnecessary extra step to complete a sale can break buyers momentum.
Here's an interesting statistic: Amazon is top 10 in terms of search query in Jamaica. This tells me that Jamaicans aren't necessarily shy of shopping online. So why the heavy scepticism when it comes to local retailers? Well, apart from their massive online presence, Amazon and other major online retailers (Fashion Nova, eBay) have what is called social proofing - a track record of transaction efficiency, as well as clearly defined policies for delivery, returns and exchange all backed by robust trade laws.
I have no doubt that the genesis of these issues are rooted in the lack of confidence in the system to sufficiently protect consumers and the industries that play a major role in making the digital economy happen.
The dilly-dallying around the implementation of the Data Protection Bill and the woeful inadequacy of the Electronic Transaction Act does not signal that the GOJ is taking this digital economy thing as seriously as they ought to, even though they've acknowledged the problem.
"an updated legal system and a flexible regulatory regime are crucial requirements for making digital transactions safe and easy ... plays a crucial role in promoting consumer trust in the digital market by providing a set of laws and regulations for electronic documents and e-signatures, electronic payments, consumer protection from spam and other annoyances, the right of withdrawal (e.g. procedures for returning products acquired through e-commerce), online dispute resolution, cybersecurity, the legal responsibility of digital platforms and privacy and data protection." WTO 2018 Report
"If developing countries can make the required investments in high-speed internet access, electricity expansion, skills development (particularly entrepreneurship and management skills) and “smart” cities, they will be able to harness the opportunities offered by digital technologies and close the gap with the advanced countries. "
Most, if not all, of the challenges posed, are surmountable, but it's as if we simply insist on not being great. If vision 2030 is still the vision we are being guided by then we should be aggressively attacking these problems because our participation and access to the global digital economy is central to making Jamaica the place to live and do business. Bear in mind that by 2030 eCommerce would've already gained a significant chunk of global retail sales, capturing several major markets (plural).
ECommerce, like tech, like social media, is not a fad or a careless trend, it is the world we now live in. We can no longer ignore it, that attitude has already put us behind the eight ball. It may sound alarmist but I really want to light a fire so we start to understand why it is absolutely necessary for us to be in a state of readiness to leverage the numerous opportunities the digital era has to offer.