A consortium of businesses led by Union Bank of the Philippines Inc. (UnionBank) targets small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the Visayas to sell their idea of electronic commerce (e-commerce).
“Much like how we engaged SMEs back in Northern Luzon last October, we want to bring the same opportunity to entrepreneurs in [the] Visayas, giving them the opportunity to bring their respective businesses beyond borders,” newly appointed UnionBank President Edwin R. Bautista said.
According to Bautista, SMEs need to raise their game to a higher level to be competitive both in the local and global markets. And the best option to be a force to be reckoned with in business is to pursue the digital route, he explained.
But the situation in the horizon is not bright. Only 1 percent of Filipino SMEs have a working web site, despite the fact that they comprise over 95 percent of all registered businesses in the country and employ 62 percent of the labor force, according to UnionBank Executive Vice President Genaro V. Lapez. Lapez described the scenario as a Catch-22.
Sans citing sources, Lapez said 47 million Filipinos have been connected to the Internet and 26 million (55 percent) are users of smartphones, “one of the highest figures in the emerging market.”
“All these [numbers] only emphasize a major ‘disconnect’ out there that has not been addressed,” Lapez said adding “such has been the reason UnionBank partnered with industry leaders and experts to empower SMEs to take advantage of technology and turn local businesses into global enterprises via e-commerce.”
Launched in Baguio during the latter part of 2015, the consortium is also composed of Air21 Global Inc., Advanced Manufacturing Technology Inc. and DragonPay Corp. The government is represented by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
“We created the Ureka Forum to give Filipino SMEs the opportunity to grow their respective businesses beyond their potential through e-commerce,” Bautista said.
Sheila Lina, CEO of Air21’s Shopinas.com business, said encouraging SMEs to pursue the digital route will broaden their opportunities. “It will make invisible entrepreneurs visible by bringing them online.”
According to Lina, SMEs have to combine the store front (online portal), payment gateway and the last mile delivery for delivery of the products.
She said a shift in consumer behavior will contribute to the growth of e-commerce in the country. Still, Lina acknowledges that majority of consumers still prefer to shop via the brick-and-mortar setup.
“It’s a psychological barrier. I think it is a marathon and a bit of advocacy to transform businesses to the digital road map.”
DragonPay Founder and COO Robertson Chiang said the lack of focus and interest of entrepreneurs in going to the e-commerce route is also an obstacle to its growth.
“We have a lot of merchants on the fence and a lot of entrepreneurs who see online as a sideline,” he said. “[But] if you put a foot at the door, you might, as well, go all the way.”
In a separate interview, Echostore owner Chit Juan said SMEs should give close attention to putting and maintaining a web site because it is “our window to the world.”
“It’s the lack of knowledge about technology and fear of costs of set up” that hinders SMEs from doing so, according to Juan.
“People think it’s very expensive to start a web site and get a designer and next maintain it. But there are now step-by-step instructions on the Web on how to make your own web site.” The consortium called Ureka Forum plans to hold a conference among SMEs in Iloilo.