Bigger push needed as 6 in 10 SMEs currently do not have an online sales capability

10th May 2021


Virgin Media #BackingBusiness Initiative, in collaboration with Digital Business Ireland (DBI), Permanent TSB, Milk Bottle Labs and Munster Local Enterprise Offices.


Even though there has been a significant move by businesses to online trading, only one-third of SMEs in Ireland currently have this capability and a bigger push into online sales is essential to ensure renewal, recovery, resilience and competitiveness for the future, the organisers of the Virgin Media Backing Business initiative have said.


Virgin Media’s new #BackingBusiness initiative, in collaboration with Digital Business Ireland (DBI), Permanent TSB, Milk Bottle Labs and Munster Local Enterprise Offices, has established a €100,000 programme which will select and support five businesses across Munster with bespoke digital transformation packages.


This is currently now open for applications until 18th May and businesses in the Munster counties are invited to enter on


The aim of the initiative is to help small businesses benefit from new online consumer spending patterns with support from industry experts to help raise their ecommerce offering to the next level.  Overall it will exemplify how businesses can compete online and create further opportunities for growth.


Five businesses across Munster will be selected to get a share of the overall €100,000 in support and will also benefit hugely from the expertise and insights of each of the Virgin Media ‘Backing Business’ partners. This includes one year of free Fibre Business Broadband with Virgin Media Business; an online Shopify Store built by Milk Bottle Labs; business development support and full membership of Digital Business Ireland's extensive network and ongoing mentoring in digital marketing from the Local Enterprise Offices in Munster. The overall initiative is supported with programme funding from Permanent TSB.


Aidan D’Arcy, Director of Virgin Media Business said, “An online presence and trading capability, along with high quality broadband connectivity has never been more important for businesses, as consumers have made the switch online. While 80% of all businesses in Ireland have a website, significantly fewer than this figure can actually sell something online and for SMEs, just 35% have an e-commerce capability. We need to work hard to improve this figure.


“The e-commerce opportunity is local, regional and national. It doesn't mean you need to compete with global online retailers, but it does need a focused and dedicated approach and some resources to get it right. That’s what we’re seeking to support five businesses in doing, and this will create examples for everyone of what is achievable through digital.”


The Local Enterprise Offices approved 13,000 small firms for Trading Online Vouchers in 2021 and provided a total of €22m in financial support and assistance, underpinning 5,585 new jobs in 2020 and overall supporting 7,500 small businesses employing 35,000 people nationwide.


Online shopping habits for Irish consumers have changed dramatically since COVID-19 and this will continue. Recently published research by Virgin Media (carried out independently among 1,000 adults by Amarach Research) showed that 50% all respondents shop more online now than they ever did previously, since the pandemic started.


Consumers have shown a rapidly increasing preference to shop from home using digital channels with 90% saying they spent money online in a one month period. Four in 10 people (37%) said they began shopping online for the first time - at the start of the pandemic. Half (47%) of respondents said they’re shopping more online than before.


According to Virgin Media’s research, Ireland’s Top Five most popular online purchases on a usual basis are  (1) Clothing 81%, (2) Food Takeout and Delivery 62%, (3) Footwear 60%, (4) Consumer Electronics 59% and (5) Entertainment at Home, 57%.


New buying patterns emerged since the pandemic started with many people buying a range of specific goods and services online for the first time.  The Top Five most popular new online purchases among these consumers include (1) Groceries, 44% of online grocery shoppers began purchasing online since the start of the pandemic; (2) Healthcare, Fitness and Wellness Products 37%; (3) Snacks 36%; (4) Household Supplies 35%, (5) Vitamins / Supplements 35%.


The average online spend by people surveyed was €245 in a single month. 4 in 10 people said they had spent amounts of up to €100 online in one month, with a further grouping (40%) saying they spent between €100 and €500 and roughly 10% spending between €500 and €1,000, or more.  Just one in 10 people said they didn’t shop online.