E-marketing and SMEs: operational lessons for the future

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E-marketing and SMEs:
operational lessons for the future


School of Marketing, Entrepreneurship and Strategy, University of Ulster, Jordanstown, UK

Audrey Gilmore
Damian Gallagher
The School of Management and Business, The University of Wales, Aberystwyth, UK, and

Scott Henry
School of Marketing, Entrepreneurship and Strategy, University of Ulster, Jordanstown, UK
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to report on a study that re-examines the impact of the internet on small to medium-sized enterprise marketing activities, following a similar study four years earlier (2000) in order to see what, if any, changes have occurred. Design/methodology/approach – A qualitative research approach was adopted using one-to-one, in-depth semi-structured interviews with the marketing managers or IT professionals of ten small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) who were directly involved in introducing the internet and e-marketing activities within their respective company.

Findings – The all-encompassing role of the internet in today’s business world and the findings of this study raise some serious issues for the future of SMEs operating in a peripheral location and their e-marketing provisions. It is still very much in its infancy for some SMEs although its use has generally continued since 2000. SMEs still do not use it to its full scope and potential. Originality/value – The outcomes of the study illustrate the specific barriers and implementation issues encountered by SMEs, identify the consequences of implementing e-marketing on the SME businesses, and identify how SMEs within regional economies could better use e-marketing and facilitate better implementation in the future.

Keywords Small to medium-sized enterprises, Internet, Internet marketing, Electronic commerce Paper type Research paper

European Business Review
Vol. 19 No. 3, 2007
pp. 234-247
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/09555340710746482

The use of the internet for e-commerce (technologically mediated exchanges) has grown rapidly in relation to the increase in commercial web sites. Information can be requested and provided, orders placed and filled, products delivered and services performed (Ching and Ellis, 2004). It has also impacted upon the barriers to export entry and has provided hope to millions of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) attempting to enter foreign markets by allowing them to communicate globally as efficiently as any large business (McCue, 1999; Hoffman and Novak, 1996; Herbig and Hale, 1997; Nguyen and Barrett, 2006).

Whilst there is no clearly stated and accepted definition of an SME, for the purposes of this paper it is defined as an enterprise that employs less than 250 persons, has an annual turnover not exceeding EUR 50 million, and/or an annual balance sheet total

not exceeding EUR 43 million (Forfas, 1999). Their importance to the economy is well recognised and is estimated to account for 80 per cent of global economic growth (Jutla et al., 2002).
Although there has been widespread acceptance of internet use in corporate environments, the extent to which it is used by SMEs varies widely (Sadowski et al., 2002). It can provide wide-reaching economic benefits through an alternative channel for companies, especially those operating in peripheral regions such as those on the edge of Europe, and it has been said those not engaged in e-marketing would be doing so at their “peril” (Egan et al., 2003).

In the past decade there has been a growth in research on the role of the internet, and information technology in general, for businesses and in the workplace (Venkatesh and Davis, 2000). A study conducted in 2000 revealed that the use of the internet was widespread but its benefit was questionable, with little sales being generated directly as...
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