Economy Minister, Gordon Lyons was at Houstons Department Store in Enniskillen as he welcomed the digital support offered to more than 700 retail and wholesale businesses across the North.
The Digital Selling Capability Grant (DSCG) and the Micro-Business E-Commerce Grant (MBEG) have helped businesses, such as Houstons, manage over the Covid lockdown period.
Both schemes were developed by Invest NI to help businesses improve their e-commerce and digital marketing capabilities and to grow their online sales in response to the challenges of COVID-19.
The schemes collectively received £5million of funding, including an allocation from the Department for the Economy’s Economic Recovery Action Plan.
Speaking during a visit to Houstons Minister Lyons said: “The pandemic has been a catalyst for an increase in consumer online spending and I am pleased that my Department could provide funding to support businesses across Northern Ireland to mitigate the challenges of COVID-19.
“Many have used the grants to focus on online strategies for their businesses, develop new e-commerce websites, and avail of consultancy services. This has ensured that our local retail sector could react quickly to high street restrictions and grow in new ways.”
Houstons is a long established local brand, with eight retail stores across Northern Ireland.
Invest NI has offered Houstons a DSCG grant towards the cost of developing its e-commerce website and digital marketing strategy.
The Minister continued: “I’m also pleased to be in Enniskillen to see first-hand how the scheme has positively impacted local businesses here.
“Following DSCG support, Houstons has experienced a 400 per cent increase in its monthly online sales, particularly in Great Britain and has expanded its team to help it keep up with the increase in demand.
“This is just one example of the positive impact of my Department’s Economic Recovery Action Plan on businesses here.”
John Houston, a Director of Houstons, stated that the DSCG has been a boon for the store and helped to boost online sales.
He said: “Invest NI’s Digital Selling Capability Grant has helped us to find new ways of doing business online which complement our retail branches.
“Our new Shopify website and digital marketing strategy have supported us to significantly increase our sales compared to last year, with sales in Great Britain now accounting for 75 percent of our total online sales.
“Due to this increase, we’ve employed four new staff to keep up with the growing online demand, and we’re implementing a POS system across our retail branches.
“This will integrate directly with our online store to provide a seamless customer experience.”
Ethna McNamee, Invest NI’s Western Regional Manager, added: “We developed these schemes to equip local retailers to respond to business challenges and maximise online sales opportunities.
“Our two digital schemes, DSCG and MBEG have given micro-businesses the confidence to explore the world of online selling, both locally and globally, so that they can sustain their businesses and increase their export potential.”
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