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COVID-19: Hidden advantage for SMEs

The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is now contagion and uncertainty abound. The coronavirus has officially been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, on March 11, 2020. As of today 20th March, the number of coronavirus cases confirmed is 250,625 with more than 10,000 deaths from the disease. Outside of China, cases have been reported across over 100 countries, most conspicuously Italy and Iran, but also including the UK, the US, Australia, France, and Germany, with infections and deaths increasing worldwide. This has caused continued apprehension and distortion in the way of life and business landscape.

In Nigeria, we have recorded 27 positive cases as at Sunday and the contact tracing of 1,300 people ongoing as of 20th March 2020. With this development, there are speculations that we might have a spike in the number of cases due to a high sense of community transmission of the virus. With the government reactions, it is an indication that we are now coming to terms with the reality of the coronavirus incident in Nigeria. Government has ordered closure of all schools, devalued the currency, shut airports, issued travel bans to some countries, restrict government officials’ trip abroad and prohibited gatherings of above 50 people in the interest of all.

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All because the coronavirus outbreak is taking a toll on the citizenry, economy, international trades, stock markets, and businesses. Even at that, the outbreak of coronavirus continues to disrupt global supply chains and financial markets globally. Our business environment in Nigeria is likely to experience a drastic change in the coming weeks with the emergence of new cases and the ongoing contact tracing nationwide. Therefore, the way businesses will be operated in the coming days will likely experience disruptions.

The stock market which is an economic barometer has been experiencing bearish trends globally since the beginning of the year with the growing concern of the coronavirus pandemic. The Nigeria All Share Index (ASI), a measure of stock market performance as plunged by -17.75 percent year to date and market capitalization has equally dropped to N11.505.70 trillion respectively as of 20th March 2020. To put it in the right context, these economic indicators mirror businesses and company performance in the country.

Correspondingly, when the performance of the stock market is weak or poor it means investors are losing value and market value of the listed companies is equally experiencing diminution. The performance of the stock market is largely determined by the well-being of these listed companies which are generally affected by cycles or disruption in the economy including Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Most companies globally are already feeling the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak and this is one of the major reasons for the decline in the stock market performances. However certain sectors and companies are more exposed to the risk of coronavirus than others, the airline and hospitality businesses are majorly hit and are finding it difficult to operate. Similarly, consumer goods firms are facing heavy disruption in their supply chain and restocking.

But while revenues and business forecasts are set to suffer short-term pressures and declines, one of the ways to cushion the effect of the pandemic and manage the impact on businesses is through technology adoption and remote communications, which is mainly by e-commerce adoption. Electronic commerce or simply e-commerce, can give the needed hidden upside for businesses because it relies on various information and communication technologies (ICT), and it has the potential to improve trade efficiency and improve business performance, while this COVID-19 disruption persists.

The use of technology will allow the automation of common processes in business, such as distribution, sales, after-sales service, and inventory management. The marketplace for business transactions will be extended beyond traditional boundaries with the adoption of e-Commerce. The necessary shopping, bargaining, and transactions can take place anywhere and businesses can be accessible everywhere and anywhere in Nigeria with the adoption. Be sure that the e-commerce platform will give your business the digital visibility and the safety required during these trying times.

Obviously with this strategy adoption and adequate use of the e-commerce platform will provide compliance to the widely publicized precautionary measures especially social distancing and no-touch greetings. Besides, customer convenience will be enhanced and the shopping cost will similarly be reduced. Transactional and operational costs of an online businesses are lower than the traditional brick and mortar businesses. Therefore, SME operators can showcase, transact and sell anything, even perishable items, such as fresh tomato, chicken, and so on the platform. In essence, e-commerce will provide the platform for businesses, irrespective of their size or number of employees to contain with the COVID-19 limitations and continue to transact despite the government restrictions.

The e-commerce platform is a technological advancement tool for business for SMEs to offer attractive prices for their goods and services, build their reputations, and overcome the COVID-19 limitations. SME operators are able to connect with their target customer, business partners in a timely and efficient manner nationwide and internationally. Commercial activities are aided faster and online payment solutions support the effective usage of the e-commerce. Therefore, be informed that the electronic nature of this type of transaction will allow businesses to execute high transactions on a day to day and 24 hours basis without any physical contact.

Likewise, it is convenience for clients to transact online because it will save them the stress of transportation, car parking cost, the reduction of the risk of coronavirus contacts and so on. The e-commerce platform guarantees an opportunity to break free of the limitation that physical outlets, offices, and shops provides. It will equally enable SMEs to transact beyond their neighborhood or geographical location. E-commerce can expand SME networks across geographical borders to reach a greater number of states and even countries

However, according to sampled opinion some obstacles may obstruct SMEs getting into e-commerce, some of which are: enterprise’s goods or services not being suitable, problems related to logistics, problems related to payments and so on. It is believed that these issues can be handled if the right assistance is sought on time. By adopting e-commerce, SMEs stand to benefit from increased revenues and sales, improved market reach, access to new markets and cost savings in marketing and communication expenditure

 

Therefore, the ability to incorporate new strategies such as e-commerce quickly and flexibly will be a key strength that will set SME operators including young entrepreneurs, women in business, agriculturalist, manufacturers and business executives apart during this period. The adoption of digital trade through of e-commerce, social media marketing services, website design and development, mobile application development are able to widen market access of goods and services and change the shopping and business transaction landscape in Nigeria during this COVID-19 era and beyond.

 

Timi Olubiyi

Dr. Olubiyi holds a Ph.D. in Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management. He is a prolific investment coach, Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI) and a financial literacy specialist. He can be reached on the twitter handle @drtimiolubiyi and via email: drtimiolubiyi@gmail.com.

 

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