The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a significant shift in consumer retail habits. With many stores shuttered for months at a time, consumers have been forced online to source their goods, and businesses with strong online presences are reporting huge surges in profits. In fact, the pandemic has had such a strong impact on online retail that some experts are saying we’ve made up to ten years of progress in just 12 short months.
After a successful pilot scheme in 2019 to help retailers with global ambition strengthen their digital presence, Enterprise Ireland launched the Covid-19 Online Retail Scheme in 2020 on behalf of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, in recognition of the fact that having a web presence was now a case of survival for Irish retailers. A total of 330 retailers were approved €11.8m via two rounds of the scheme last year, with the average grant per business in the second round being €36,700.
A further €5m assistance was announced for the scheme in 2021, which is now taking applications from eligible businesses. Open for retailers with more than ten employees that have some sort of web presence already, the funding scheme is for companies that want to make a significant shift in strategy to online retailing.
Applicants may have an established website already with some e-commerce functionality; this scheme is designed to help them take a further, more significant step in recognition that selling online is the future and the next step to expanding your customer base on a global scale.
Cost categories covered under the scheme includes engaging outside consultants to develop and implement an online strategy, investing in the technology to improve your site (such as the inventory consolidation systems), and targeting your chosen customer base.
While many retailers are at different stages on their journey to becoming a global seller, the desire to internationalise your business is an important consideration.
With Brexit making consumers from Ireland and mainland Europe more reluctant to order from UK sellers, as a result of delays and possible customs charges, Irish retailers have a significant opportunity to increase their market into the eurozone. In fact, many previously successful applicants to the scheme, such as Seagreen, Best Menswear and Great Outdoors, have made this a significant part of their online strategy.
For struggling retailers that have been shut for a fair proportion of the last 12 months, the Online Retail Scheme offers a very attractive grant rate of up to 80% of the project’s cost, to a maximum grant of €40,000. So, for instance, for a €50,000 project, the grant could cover up to €40,000 of the total costs. This is in recognition of the fact that expert consultants and sophisticated e-commerce technology can be expensive, and possibly beyond the budget at the moment for the beleaguered retail trade.
It is important for applicants to think carefully about their project and put forward a strong case for the funding. Key questions include identifying what the issues are and why you need to improve your online presence, outlining how the project will impact your business and describing the best case scenario for your business following implementation.
Finding the right people to develop and execute your project is also important – and this should be done at an early stage of the application process to ensure the application reflects a robust workplan. Look for someone with significant experience in the types of projects you want to implement. The application will be assessed according to the quality of the workplan and the description of how you will implement your plan. Research is key – a well-researched plan has the best chance of success.
The application process is straightforward with details on the Enterprise Ireland website. The page also includes criterial and scoring breakdown, so applicants can see what they need to include within their application.
A number of helpful resources are also available during the call, such as webinars to help you through the application process and a dedicated email address for any queries – firstname.lastname@example.org – which deals with hundreds of queries during the call and has a very fast turnaround on queries. Details of the scheme can be found here: enterprise-ireland.com/en/funding-supports/Online-Retail/Online-Retail-Scheme/
Ross O’Colmain is manager for the construction, cleantech, timber and consumer sectors at Enterprise Ireland