E-commerce expert advises: "Choose a niche."

According to the e-commerce barometer, the Belgian online trade volume climbed to approximately €5 billion, a 22% increase compared to 2016. A mere 3%  of the web shops generated 86% of that result. What does this tell us about the chances of survival for smaller online retailers? We spoke to e-commerce expert and manager of Mex United, Cis Scherpereel.

Simplicity & originality

“For small and starting retailers, carving out a niche in the online market is a tough proposition. Compared to the big guns, they often lack resources, experience and relevant knowledge”, Cis Scherpereel explains. “Nevertheless there are examples of small web shops that are pretty successful and even succeed in attracting foreign customers. Very often they will target a specific niche - children’s shoes, for instance - and capitalise on their unique character through intelligent marketing. This is how you create an environment that inspires trust. Authenticity, originality and simplicity in terms of range are key here.”


Setting up and running a web shop requires a good deal of technology. What should a small online retailer focus on? 

Cis Scherpereel: “The technology - web servers, broadband, payment software, etc. - has become much more accessible over the last five years. Nowadays there are affordable, ready-to-use solutions enabling you to set up a properly functioning web shop quickly. Often the problem is simply that smaller players lack the time to explore the market in depth”. 


Connectivity at point of sale

In addition, Cis Scherpereel also points to technological shortcomings. The interaction between a physical point of sale and online shopping is crucial in the development of e-commerce. Mobile connectivity is rapidly becoming more important in this regard. Consumers want to check out your range on their smartphone and order products while browsing your brick and mortar store. Unfortunately, the internet connectivity is often not yet up to standard. As consumers are becoming increasingly demanding in this respect, there’s a lot of work to be done here.

Orange offers the perfect solution: Network Extender ensures optimal internet connection at your point of sale so your customers can look around the store while shopping on their tablet or smartphone.


Integration with back office

Smaller retailers also have some catching up to do in terms of integrating the web shop and point of sale with the back office (accounting, stock management, CRM, dispatch, etc.). “Often they still work with Excel files”, says Cis Scherpereel. “Especially if you have more than one point of sale, it’s easy to be overtaken by events. In addition, security is obviously becoming increasingly important. After all, you wouldn’t want hackers to run off with your customers’ login and payment details.” IP VPN creates a secure link between your points of sale and the back office.


Look before your leap

Cis Scherpereel thinks the web shop sphere still offers opportunities for start-ups and small entrepreneurs but he cautions: “Launching an e-commerce site is rather like putting a large flywheel into motion: it takes a while to really get going. You have to ask yourself beforehand whether you have the commitment and access to the resources required to get through that initial period.”


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