Small business development is a crucial source of employment and growth within any economy and the emergence of the Internet and ecommerce is evolving as a potentially key facilitator of sustained development for many small firms.
The main purpose of this study is to examine the potential benefits and constraints associated with small business use of e-commerce. The project firstly critiques existing relevant e-commerce and small business development literature to facilitate identification of key partial frames of guiding literature-based understanding. That understanding is then used to identify key research issues for a subsequent case study investigation and assessment of a small business, KPD Antiques and Collectables (KPD), which was commenced on a part-time basis utilizing a combination of traditional shop form retail outlet and online selling. Development of the business has stalled and the enterprise is struggling to fully utilize e-commerce to underpin its ongoing development. Assessment of the business is built up through face to face interviews with the owner manager, analysis of secondary documentation and assessment of the business’s current website.
Findings of the study revealed that small businesses whilst bestowed with possible advantages relating to smallness of operation and with regard to use of e-commerce in particular, also face size related problems and constraints – and specific potential difficulties with regard to effective uptake of e-commerce. Findings from the case study assessment supported much of the current existing literature-based understanding regarding small business difficulties associated with effectively anchoring-in e-commerce, including restraints of time, technical ability constraints and the issue of adequacy of owner manager e-commerce awareness and knowledge. But also gave specific focus to the issue of inadequate marketing and management of the e-commerce process: for example, the need for effective dovetailing of mainstream traditional business marketing effort and appropriate and creative e-commerce related marketing. Integral to this is the highlighting of how a small business could have ‘the best website in the land’ – but if insufficient numbers of people and the right potential customers in particular are unaware of that website it is of little use.
The study concludes with the offering of recommendation with regard to KPD development of effective business and marketing strategies focused on identification of and communication with potential customers, including enhanced on-line interaction with that customer base for the building of trust and ‘educating’ that customer base in terms of KPD product and service offerings – with the tackling of the issue of search engine optimisation being integral to this.
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