Features

In line with going online: using e-commerce to tap new markets (en)

7 juillet 2016
ITC Nouvelles
Small and medium-sized businesses in developing countries are using electronic solutions to leapfrog trade challenges and target customers around the world with ITC help

To sell more goods online, sell them in person. That’s what Syrian entrepreneur Rania Kinge did to expand her online market while offering handmade products ranging from bracelets and bags to scarves to soaps at a pop-up store in Geneva earlier this year.

The goods were handcrafted by displaced women in Damascus who received training from Kinge. Over time, she has trained about 100 women.

‘I donate my know-how to teach them how to do handwork so they can slowly get out of the shelters and live as normal Syrian citizens,’ Kinge says, adding that it’s important for her to give local women a chance at making a decent living in their own country. ‘Syria’s local economy is based on crafts. I thought I would tap into this to reposition Syria on the international scene.’

WHERE VIRTUAL AND PHYSICAL MEET

For small-business owners like Kinge, opening a pop-up store is a low-cost, lowcommitment alternative to opening a brickand- mortar store. An added benefit is that it can generate buzz about a company and pique the interest of passers-by, making it more likely for them to purchase goods, visit the online store and tell others about the company. In other words, it levels the playing field somewhat.

Kinge partnered with the International Trade Centre (ITC) to set up her store – which ITC calls an e-commerce souk or eComSouk – as part of the ITC e-solutions programme of advisory and capacity building services designed to help businesses of developing countries to sell in international markets using digital platforms.

By providing services and opportunities such as the eComSouk, businesses of all sizes – particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – are better able to reach their target customers, explains Mohamed Es Fih, ITC e-solutions adviser.

‘We have technology to help these businesses get easier access to major online marketplaces, like eBay, Amazon, Etsy and other markets,’ he says. ‘We do this by unlocking barriers to the tripod of problems: visibility, payments and logistics.’

During the one-day eComSouk event, customers bought nearly US$ 10,000 worth of Syrian products. As a result of the visibility raised by the event, about double that amount in business leads, including business- to-business meetings, followed.

The Syrian eComSouk was the second event of its kind. The first, which featured products from Morocco, resulted in physical sales of US$ 5,500 and an additional US$ 10,000 in online sales after the event.

LEAPFROGGING TRADE BARRIERS

While the eComSouk introduces customers to goods produced by SMEs in developing countries, the lasting impact comes from attracting customers to their websites. For example, Kinge’s business has generated more than 12,000 likes on Facebook and testimonials from buyers from the region and around the world.

To keep and build on customers’ trust, companies must ensure that once an online order is placed, the goods are delivered on time and in good condition.

This is a major challenge for many SMEs, particularly those in developing countries, where high logistics costs, unpredictable delivery times and outdated legislation can make it almost impossible for them to sell goods in international markets. Oftentimes SME owners do not fully understand trade logistics procedures and processes and struggle to manage risks related to crossing borders.

To help, ITC is partnering with DHL, the global logistics company, to address challenges to logistics and customs regulations. The goal of the partnership is to equip SMEs, trade institutions and government authorities with the knowledge and skills to improve their trade logistics performance so more businesses can participate in e-commerce.

CRAFTING POSITIVE CHANGES

As for Kinge, marketing her products at the eComSouk in Geneva opened up her business to a new clientele, giving the displaced women that she works with in Damascus a chance to promote their products directly to end consumers. She hopes the products she sells can share a positive message about Syria with the rest of the world.

‘Thanks to ITC, I am equipped with more courage and hope that we can change people in a nice way,’ Kinge says. ‘We have to make projects that are adapted to people and their skills.’