The Adrian Loveridge Column – No Local ecommerce Product for Small Businesses
After going through a seemingly complex ‘hoops and hurdles’ experience that certainly could not win any user friendly awards, I just wonder if our ‘local’ financial institutions have not missed out in a massive way to assist small businesses to grow and attract additional foreign exchange earnings for the country.
We recently tried to set up an e-commerce platform to allow payments of relatively small amounts (under BDS$200 per transaction) to be paid online by credit or debit cardholders. Of course we approached a conventional bank, but the documentation required was simply beyond anything that could be deemed reasonable and even if we took the hours required to amass all the requested prerequisite items, it then still needed an in-person visit to the branch, despite being a customer with that bank for years and our accounting history and identity was known to them.
Secondly we tried with PayPal, but that required a third party merchant to process the transactions. Almost at the point of giving up, one more try with Canadian based Shopify and while this was not without its challenges, I have to say that was countered with a customer service response that must stand out as a global model for many organisations to imitate.
Shopify was founded in 2004 by the owners of an online snowboarding store who sound like they were then having the same challenges as us. In 2010 Shopify started a ‘Building-A-Business’ competition in which participants could create a business using its ecommerce platform. The winners of the competition received cash prizes and mentorship from entrepreneurs like Sir Richard Branson (Virgin Group) and Eric Ries, author of The Lean Start Up. Recently the company reported that it now has more than 400,000 merchants with total gross merchandise volume revenue exceeding US$34 billion annually.
In 2015 the company went public with an Initial Public Offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange and Toronto Stock Exchange offering a share price of US$17. When trading started, the shares quickly reached US$28 or 60 per cent higher than the offer price. The IPO raised more than US$131 million.
Our larger companies here (Barbados) have their own established connections where financial transactions of greater proportions can easily be facilitated, but if we really want our smaller businesses and entrepreneurs to grow and flourish, the big banks need to look carefully at ways they can help this sector.
We can all understand that banks should not be in the risk business, despite the many revelations over the last decade or so, but there are insurable ways to mitigate any, if not all risk. If I recall correctly, there was an attempt to launch a mobile credit or debit card wireless processor locally, like the highly successful Square or Sum-Up, in other major markets, but have certainly not heard much more about it here. Surely, all the technology exists already with a major communications entity constantly boasting they have the most extensive and fastest coverage using fibre?