The UK e-commerce market has grown by 16% in the last year and 5 times as fast as traditional commerce. Estimated to be worth over £62 billion, the UK is now the largest global e-commerce market. Although British e-commerce offers such great opportunities for growth, many companies in the UK have yet to take advantage.

  • Only 1.6 million businesses (less than 1 in 3) in the United Kingdom trade online.
  • There are far more British businesses that are simply not equipped to take full advantage of e-commerce's potential.
  • Over half of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK are unable to process online payments.
According to the Royal Mail’s annual tracker study, 74% of the UK’s small businesses trading online increased sales in 2015 compared to the previous year. If you don’t already have an e-commerce strategy there isn’t any time to lose. With such incredible opportunities for growth, now really is the best time to get started. E-commerce has improved a great deal these days. The lack of technical skills is no longer a barrier for e-commerce newbies, as e-commerce becomes more accessible and user-friendly.

Some SMEs prefer to enter the e-commerce market by selling on market places such as Amazon and eBay. With the help of SaaS solutions there’s every reason to continue doing that, but through your own online store. SaaS e-commerce solutions adapt to your needs, they don’t require a big upfront investment and are accessible from any computer with an internet connection. There really is no reason why even the smallest businesses whether they are B2B or B2C shouldn’t have online stores.

Setting up an e-commerce store has never been easier, with the right platform you can be up and running in a matter of days. For example, 68% of Actinic’s customers build their online shop on their own.

SMEs need to pick up the best features that will help them boost their online activity such as continuing to sell through marketplaces and completing email campaign analysis or addressing the needs of a specific target group. For example, up to 10 tariffs can be set per product, allowing professional customers to benefit from dedicated offers, a very useful feature for B2B.

Whether already engaging in e-commerce or not, it’s hard to miss the buzz around mobile devices. With just a couple of clicks the mobile version of an e-store is ready to start taking orders and you are able to check the business progress on your mobile app without worrying about missing a thing.

“Trading online is vital for a business to flourish. For small and medium-sized businesses in particular, a digital presence can be transformative, empowering firms to find new markets, sell more products, and increase revenue. Without a well-designed and mobile friendly website or an online marketplace, it’s very difficult for businesses to grow” explains Lee Perkins, Managing Director of Sage UK and Ireland talking about their E-Commerce for Sage 50 partnership with Actinic.

With an integrated ERP, the e-commerce store is fully integrated into the core business. Stock and client information is centralised and live, so SMEs are immediately aware of any changes. The latest payments received and orders taken are instantly updated on the ERP with stock levels adjusted accordingly. No need to maintain an online store catalogue and stock control on both e-store and accounting system, saving the time and effort, whilst reducing the chance of error. By automating a large part of the administrative process, more time can be put into increasing turnover.

For instance, according to RightNow 86% of customers are willing to pay up to 25% more for a better customer experience. E-merchants are in the best position to provide a first class customer experience when they have strong customer data from e-commerce sites.

By analysing the data that e-store gathers, e-merchants can develop strategies to increase a business’ productivity and ability to compete and innovate. Conversion channels, statistics from marketplaces, price comparison sites, newsletter campaigns can be gathered and exported. For example, customers’ buying history, authorised personal data, interests, marketing reactivity, all allow SMEs to adapt their offers and marketing content to create a more effective sales strategy.

Moving business online may seem daunting, but with a fully comprehensive solution like e-commerce for Sage 50 Accounts every business from B2C to B2B can reach a massive worldwide audience without having to have a store on every high street! If a bricks-and-mortar store is closed at night the online store is still running and integrating with ERP, in this way statistics stay up to date without having to worry about them.

The old retail models have changed and business owners should be clear about the place of e-commerce in the new reality. The Royal Mail annual tracker study also revealed that 80% of e-Commerce businesses are confident that sales will increase in 2016. Carpe diem!

By Marc Schillaci, CEO of Actinic (Actinic is a brand of Oxatis Group)