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Being competitive as an SME with a strategy for the digital age

For many years, our work has been dominated by computers. Since the advent of smartphones, at the latest, the same is also true of our private life. The digital possibility of shopping and communicating from any location and around the clock has also opened new sales channels for SMEs. The challenge is to anchor these channels in an overall strategy. Wanja Bont, in charge of the PwC Experience Center, has some tips for SMEs:
Bird's eye view of a table full of computers, smartphones, and tablets.
Offline and online business should be combined.

Mr. Bont, everybody is talking about e-commerce. Online commerce is said to offer great potential for promoting sales and gaining customers, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises.

What are the success factors for e-commerce?

In our opinion, the greatest success factors for e-commerce are a holistic view of the project and a clear strategy. E-commerce goes far beyond the mere implementation of an online shop and affects all areas of an SME – from sales and marketing to logistics to customer service and the legal department. To be successful in the field of e-commerce, it is vital to break down these interdependencies and complex structures into clearly defined measures and to correctly implement these measures.

To what extent does an SME that wants to sell its products via an online shop for the first time have to align its strategy?

It is possible to enter the e-commerce market in various ways. From very elementary shops (e.g. via simple commerce plugins) to turnkey shop solutions to complex custom developments (e.g. in the form of configurators for complex products in the B2B setting), a suitable approach needs to be determined, depending on the type of SME. A platform strategy might be a viable option. In any event, it is important that the e-commerce concept goes beyond the scope of the actual shop, as mentioned previously. This must by all means be part of the strategy.

What are some typical strategic errors of SMEs that engage in e-commerce?

What SMEs (as well as many large corporations) need is not a digital strategy or e-commerce strategy, but a strategy for the digital age. We believe that separating e-commerce activities from the other operations is a typical error. E-commerce – which will become increasingly significant in the years to come and is expected to outperform conventional commerce in some areas – depends on the commitment of the entire business. Another typical error is the lack of long-term perspective when setting up the online shop. A flexible, scalable solution is a must for the potential implementation of subjects such as new channels, services, and internationalization without any major conversion of the shop solution in the future.

What are the advantages of joining large online shop portals such as Amazon or Alibaba as an SME? Are there also disadvantages?

Pursuing an ecosystem or platform strategy can be very beneficial for many SMEs. First, this significantly increases the reach of the company's offer and makes it easier to find. Secondly, the platform services (e.g. Amazon's shipping services) can be made use of. Of course, the use of these portals and services is associated with costs (basic fee and margin). Moreover, it often means competing with larger competitors on the platform.

What are the problems most frequently encountered by SMEs that sell products via the Internet for the first time?

The delivery, payment management, and returns are doubtlessly three challenges that are often faced. At the operational and process level, the customer service, coordination of offline and online channels, and increasingly also the data security (cybersecurity) was well as the analysis of millions of data points also represent challenges. At the strategic level, a frequent question is how rapidly changing customer needs can be addressed and how an impelling, unique customer experience can be created both online and offline.

SME training: E-commerce and online marketing together with Google Switzerland

Book one of the last places for the impulse: Export Digital together with Google Switzerland and PwC. Make use of the opportunity to discuss your online strategy with other SMEs and digital experts of Google, PwC, and Netcomm Suisse:

As an S-GE member, you are entitled to an exclusive lunch with the CEO of Zimmerli of Switzerland, Basel, and Gregor Doser, Industry Leader of Google Switzerland, Lausanne.

About Wanja Bont

Drawing on his background as management consultant and his line management experience in the field of digital transformation, Wanja Bont is now in charge of the PwC Experience Center in Zurich, Switzerland. Together with the customers and an interdisciplinary team, he coaches enterprises in their digital transformation, from the strategy to the rollout.

About PwC Digital Services

Reimagine business in the digital age: PwC Digital Services coaches the digital transformation of your enterprise from the analysis and creation of the strategy to its rollout. In our work, we always keep our eyes set on a clear goal: To create sustainable values for your digital future!

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