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Taoiseach to hear of barriers to online retail in Ireland

Adverts.ie and a host of other companies in the sector to meet with Enda Kenny today to outline difficulties in what will be Taoiseach’s first-ever webcasted consultation meeting.

Image: online shopping via Shutterstock

ONLINE RETAILERS IN Ireland need more support and legislative help to surmount barriers to growth here.

This is the message being relayed to Taoiseach Enda Kenny this morning as he takes part in his very first webcasted consultation meeting. He is meeting a range of companies who are interested in growing their business through online, whether in a retail capacity, promoting their products or services or reaching new consumer markets.

(The meeting can be viewed on TheJournal.ie from noon. The Taoiseach’s department is hoping tweeters will have their own conversation on the happenings under the hashtag #retailroundtable)

One of the dozen or so companies participating in today’s discussion is Adverts.ie (which is part of the same Distilled Media Group), an online marketplace for goods and services.

Gordon Stewart, the Adverts.ie spokesperson attending the meeting, said he welcomed the opportunity extended to businesses to discuss the situation with the Taioseach and to relay their experience of dealing with over 1,300 retailers currently trading on their site. The site reaches a potential audience of one million unique users a month.

Stewart said:

We hope to raise some concerns around the difficulties of getting online – primarily financial barriers, the cost of compliance and difficulties in recruiting staff – and also to highlight the huge potential to generate new business by selling online.

A range of companies will be relaying their online experiences in the meeting, according to a spokesperson from the Department of the Taoiseach. These include large players like Lifestyle Sports – which uses their site to allow users to book items online and then pick up in store – to smaller businesses like greengrocers The Happy Pear, to a west of Ireland lingerie shop The Whyte House which found a huge overseas consumer base online, to The Gutterman, which promotes its fascia and gutter installation services online.

The Department’s spokesperson told TheJournal.ie the companies selected have a diversity of experience with online trading.

She said: “The Taoiseach wants to have a conversation directly with Irish businesses themselves to see what their experience has been like to get online to trade. It’s something he has mentioned many times – job creation is a priority and he wants to have as broad a conversation as possible about this.”

While acknowledging that the government has “done a lot for small online businesses”, Adverts.ie will hope to raise awareness of some of the larger difficulties facing companies trading online. Stewart outlines the following:

  • Financial barriers:“It’s extremely difficult to secure a merchant ID to facilitate online credit card payments. We faced an almost 18-month delay in getting an ID for Adverts.ie which is clearly a huge barrier to trade.

Coincidentally in the past week Stripe have fully launched in Ireland, allowing merchants to accept credit card payments without the need for their own merchant ID. We believe that this really is a game-changer for both Adverts.ie and for online retail in Ireland.”

  • Cost of compliance: “There is a lot of legislation coming from Europe and the government with which online businesses, and businesses in general, must comply. The direct and indirect costs are substantial.

A prime example includes the recent requirement to list BER information in property advertising – we felt the consultation process was lacking and the resultant guidelines for implementation were extremely over-prescriptive. Adverts.ie has 25,000 property listings and the implementation requirements required substantial design and technical changes across multiple platforms. Changes to our sites as a result of SEPA will cost us €20k over the next two years, with little upside for us as a business with only domestic customers.

Copyright and defamation remain a grey area for sites with User Generated Content, and we believe that recent copyright legislation has muddied the waters even further. Government could help in these areas by improving consultation processes and ensuring legislation is clear and unambiguous.”

  • Recruitment: “Seven out of the last eight hires for the Adverts.ie/Distilled Group development team (app and tech development) were from outside Ireland due to a shortage of suitable candidates within Ireland. Government can help by introducing incentives to students to study relevant disciplines, thereby increasing the pool of candidates, and perhaps assisting with the sourcing of overseas candidates (advice on visa requirements etc).”

The webcast is the first livestream of such a consultation meeting. While there are no concrete plans for other webcasts from the Department, TheJournal.ie understands that today’s meeting could be a ‘test run’ for future similar outreach events.

Journal Media Ltd has shareholders – Brian and Eamonn Fallon – in common with Distilled Media Group.

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