E-commerce in Switzerland: How SMEs can foster sales with online trade

Carlo Terreni is the General Director of NetComm Suisse. An association dedicating its work to the topic of E-commerce. Swiss SMEs do not make use of the full potential of cross-border online trade yet. Some tips from the expert in the interview:
Woman sitting at a big table, working with a laptop.
E-commerce is another channel to reach new customers.

Mr. Terreni, you are General Director of NetComm Suisse, which is the first Swiss association dedicated to the topic of E-commerce. Why do Swiss SMEs need your support?

To open the "online sales channel” is a great opportunity for many companies, but it requires a clear strategy, specific skills and financial investments.

What is the cost to set up an E-commerce project? Where do I have to pay the VAT? How to calculate the conversion rate online? Is Google PayPerClick the right marketing option to advertise in China? These are just a few of many questions you should need an answer to before starting an E-commerce project in order to be successful.

NetComm Suisse Association helps entrepreneurs and managers to take conscious decisions into E-commerce investments through knowledge-sharing events, trainings, data sharing, and the creation of a vibrant network of skilled professionals and solution provider companies in many fields.

Would you say Swiss SMEs make sufficient use of online trade within their country and abroad?

Thinking about the domestic market in Switzerland, we estimated that in 2016, 4.7 mio. people shop online and generate CHF 9.1 bn. of sales. 41% of Swiss online shoppers, purchasing abroad, declare that they shop internationally as they do not find what they are looking for when limiting their search to Switzerland. In addition, 37% shop internationally due to a greater selection of products and greater choice in general (from the Swiss eCommerce Consumer behaviour study 2016). This is clear evidence that Swiss SMEs do not yet fully provide for the needs of an internal E-market.

On the other hand, thanks to the study “The Swiss E-commerce Factor in international Sales”, conducted in 15 EU countries and co-financed by S-GE (to be released in October) we have understood that 33.5 mio. individuals in the EU would purchase via a Swiss online store.

In fact, many European citizens perceive Swiss online merchants as safe and reliable, being able to offer high quality products, punctual in delivery and secure in managing personal and payment data.

There is empirical evidence however that only few SMEs in Switzerland are confident in selling internationally by now, and that they to do not exploit the quality label Switzerland and the Swissness attribute to the fullest. “Swiss trust” in online trade could be the keyword for the success of e-Commerce if companies communicate it well.

What is the potential of E-commerce concerning international trade and where do you see threats?

According to the E-commerce Foundation and its Global E-commerce Report, out of 7.2 bn. people in the world over the age of 14, 1.1 bn. are online shoppers. In Europe alone, there are 296 mio. E-shoppers.However, following the United Nations Global E-commerce Index outcomes, published by UNCTAD in 2016, very few countries are fully developed in their online sales market potential.

This presents a unique opportunity for cross-border international trade in the future, something every Swiss SME should seriously consider as a concrete commercial option to sustain growth. Going international is not simple, as competition is very high, legal and fiscal frameworks might vary from country to country and, even more importantly, consumer expectations in terms of e-services might be totally different. For instance, a Chinese online shopper is highly concerned about fake products and certificates against counterfeiting, while German customers are used to high personal data protection and free return services. Spanish and Italian shoppers might be very sensitive about pricing and payments methods options.

What do SMEs have to evaluate if they want to sell their products internationally via their own online-shop?

It is very important first of all to understand customer needs, evaluate the online competition (which might be totally different to offline) and assess the legal and fiscal framework in which the Swiss company wants to operate abroad.

Even setting up a company in the served final market is not an option, Swiss SMEs will be required to respect nationals regulations and respond to different customer expectations. Swiss entrepreneurs and managers should bear in mind that foreign online shoppers need to be reinsured about their purchases, and basic elements such as local currencies, local customer care phone numbers, or website translations might not be sufficient to unlock the full potential of their E-commerce channel.

To sell online on an international level requires specific competences and skills. For that reason, we highly recommend to get support from professionals with proven experience in this field in order to avoid wasting money and to maximize ROI investments of this undoubtedly exciting business opportunity.

Training: Export Digital with S-GE, Google and a contribution of NetComm Suisse

Learn more about E-commerce and online marketing in our workshops together with Google on September, 6 in Basel, September, 26 in Lugano or October, 17 in Lausanne. NetComm Suisse will give you exclusive insights on its latest study "The Swiss E-commerce factor in international Sales".

Digitization is a topic for your international business?

Visit Exporter Demain on September, 16 in Lausanne and exchange with peers from Romandie on Industry 4.0 and the accelerating digitization.

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