MTN ups the e-commerce ante for SMEs

With e-commerce in South Africa reaching critical mass, MTN Business is placing all bets on capturing the small business market by launching an affordable, easy-to-use platform that promises to get even the smallest business online.

The potential for this market is evident in the estimated R6-billion online shopping transactions in 2014, up from around R700-million in 2006. This growth presents a compelling argument for small businesses to tap into this market, although simply setting up shop is by no means a guarantee of success.

“We believe an e-commerce presence is no longer the preserve only of large and forward-thinking companies,” Greg Hatfield General Manager: Marketing, Products and Solutions at MTN Business. “Such is the opportunity that those who ignore this opportunity are doing so at their peril. The move to an online offering, however, has to be supported by a clear strategy to capture attention and satisfy a need.

“With this in mind, we have rounded out our online and e-commerce offering for small businesses that allows anyone to create and host their site, effect transactions and ensure their website is properly marketed to attract traffic.”

Many small businesses have struggled to justify the cost of developing an e-commerce website, which could easily run into tens of thousands of rand. Some of these are also recurring costs, because of the need to continually capture market share.

MTN’s Build Your Business Online (BYBO) service eliminates both the cost and complexity of setting up services like a shopping cart and payment mechanism through a simple, template-driven interface that requires no technical skills.

A range of different templates have been developed that are industry-specific, allowing customers to choose the one most appropriate for their business. As with most leading hosting services, these designs are optimised for viewing on mobile devices.

The design and content population has also been simplified through an interface similar to popular services such as WordPress.

“Importantly, we have designed the service to help businesses with search engine optimisation and marketing services. Like any bricks-and-mortar business, you are going to struggle to generate income if you don’t attract traffic,” says Hatfield.

Social media interaction has also been simplified; business owners are easily able to post to social media services like Facebook directly from the content management interface.

MTN is banking on the void in the market left by the withdrawal of the WozaOnline service that provided SMEs with a simple online market place. This service is shutting up shop in May this year, leaving roughly 50 000 businesses in the lurch.

MTN has therefore structured packages and an easy migration path for former WozaOnline customers in a bid to ease this pain.

BYBO offers four different packages, as well as a 30-day free trial, which cater to the differing needs of small businesses. The base offering consists of a simple presence that the business owner can populate through a content management system, a host of domain registration options, and a payment gateway enabled e-commerce store for up to 25 products.

The top-end package offers added benefits such as unlimited disk space, up to 5GB of space for the e-commerce store and free domain name registration.

Prices range from R199 per month up to R1 799 for a 12-, 24-, or 36-month contract that can be terminated with 30-days notice.

“We have tried to make this as simple and attractive as possible and believe there is a ready market for a one-stop service such as this,” says Hatfield. “The e-commerce store and payment fulfilment in itself is a major benefit because this has traditionally required the business owner to set up relationships and services with more than one provider.

“Now, all they need to do is sign up for the service, provide us with the details of the bank account into which they want to receive payments, and they’re good to go.”

Additional marketing support is provided by MTN in the form of assistance to optimise pages for search engines, consulting on how to maximise social media reach and a coupon to attend a Google AdWords training workshop.

The BYBO service runs off MTN Business’s national infrastructure that offers 99,95% uptime as well as in-built security consistent with payment gateway standards. Customers are provided with a complete range of payment options, from standard electronic fund transfers and credit cards through to PayPal.

“We have little doubt that the online space is where businesses need to be. The big advantage for SMEs is that they can now compete with the big boys, at a fraction of the cost,” says Hatfield. “The seamless integration of the shopping cart and payment functionality, backed by the marketing and social media tools, we believe, round out this offering perfectly.”