Small Business E‐Commerce Management

M. Simpson (University of Sheffield Business School, UK)

Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development

ISSN: 1462-6004

Article publication date: 1 September 2004



Simpson, M. (2004), "Small Business E‐Commerce Management", Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, Vol. 11 No. 3, pp. 415-416.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This book is very timely indeed. Small business e‐commerce is becoming increasingly important in the UK with the government's intention to increase the use of the Internet by small and medium‐sized companies (SMEs). However, it is now becoming clear that many SMEs do not take advantage of the government's various initiatives to help them (for whatever reason) or have not heard about these initiatives despite massive publicity and promotion. So a decent textbook that is readily available, written by an expert on small businesses and offers insights into the way that e‐commerce can be implemented within small businesses is likely to be successful.

For the academic teaching a module on this topic the features that are appealing are: the book has a good structure, clear reference to the academic literature, free downloadable PowerPoint slides from the Palgrave Web site and useful case examples. Each chapter covers various aspects of e‐commerce with clear expert discussion. Contentious issues are carefully argued, for example in chapter one the issue of poor performance of some start‐up e‐commerce companies is covered and also the lack of formal planning which is prevalent in SMEs is commented upon. Learning objectives, chapter summaries and study questions are also included in each chapter. Although, I am not sure who the chapter summaries are for, they do give a good overview of each chapter. Each chapter is carefully structured and well written. Inevitably there is a very strong emphasis on marketing in each chapter with the “e” before planning, product, promotion, pricing and distribution. This approach reinforces and extends the comments by Denby (2001) that the terms e‐business and e‐commerce are “nothing more than business and commerce with an ‘e’ on the front”. However, for the uninitiated in marketing or e‐commerce this distinction may be irrelevant given the obvious usefulness of the material covered and the clear style of writing. For me the main objections really stem from the fact that many SMEs owner/managers have a limited grasp of or even hostility towards marketing and have few resources to commit to marketing research. While this is interesting for the academic it may be a very big problem for owner/managers to deal with. Perhaps with the development of e‐commerce within SMEs there must come a greater appreciation of the art of marketing and perhaps this book aims to tackle this issue to some degree.

For the practitioner, owner/manager or consultant to SMEs then the book is a very useful introduction to the complexities of e‐commerce. The frameworks and models proposed, developed and abstracted from the academic literature are all valuable ways of thinking about the world. The case examples speak directly to the practitioner or potential practitioner of e‐commerce in a way that one might discuss the issues with a friendly uncle or aunt. There is wisdom in each example. The book appears to follow a certain structure similar to a strategic marketing plan or business plan and topics like SWOT – sorry e‐SWOT – are covered in two chapters, while e‐market positioning including segmentation (which is very briefly covered) are tackled in chapter six. Inevitably for the SME it boils down to a niche strategy since early on in the book the power of the larger companies on the Internet particularly in the USA were described in a case example. However, a number of niche strategy case examples show that a geographic expansion strategy within a niche market can be successfully employed or that catalogue based direct marketing can be easily extended to the Internet or networking and collaboration in certain markets placed on the Internet. Competitive advantage is covered but only rather lightly with a discussion of Porter's ideas and an extended competitive advantage options matrix devised by the author. Similarly, a customer need matrix is covered but only lightly.

For those aiming to develop a rational approach to planning their e‐commerce activities an e‐business plan is put forward in chapter seven. While this is not bad it seems rather limited coverage when complete textbooks are available on writing strategic marketing plans and writing business plans. In chapter eight we see a modified Ansoff's matrix dealing with the dimensions of product and cybermarket. While not a direct copy of Ansoff's matrix it is a rather novel application of this approach. It would have been interesting to see how the diversification section of Ansoff's matrix might have been possible to adapt to the cybermarket approach given here. Product innovation is covered drawing on the work of Cooper but again this is a light trip across what is a complex area of research and understanding. In fact the whole book is a very much reduced version of a standard text on marketing with an “e” focus. The chapter on service marketing is a good example of how much material has had to be omitted in order to keep the text down to a manageable size.

It was interesting to see the discussion of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems within chapter twelve since I had presented some work on this topic at a small business conference last year only to find that some of the audience were unaware of ERP systems and their application in SMEs. This area is relatively new for SMEs and it is largely as a result of pressures from larger customers in the supply chain. There has clearly been a lot of work involved in pulling all the various materials together for such an ambitious textbook and the author is to be congratulated on that feat alone. However, inevitably a lot of good material has been omitted on the general aspects of marketing and managing e‐commerce within small businesses. The discussion on gaining a competitive advantage from e‐commerce is disappointing since this is an area where SMEs really need help in understanding what they are doing when they go online. The strategic issues are covered in a similar way and this suggests that the book has been written to a specification rather than what is really needed to understand the concepts in an e‐commerce context. The book could have benefited from being longer and more detailed in some areas. As a practical book for owner/managers it is a good introduction to the topic. As a course text for a module on e‐commerce in SMEs it is quite good but some reading around would be necessary to tackle some of the issues more thoroughly. The book is definitely not a “how to do it” manual and this suggests that the target audience is probably academics, undergraduates and taught course postgraduates. Nevertheless, the book is useful and relevant but for the SME owner/manager it probably assumes too much prior knowledge for some of the discussion to be really useful. However, in compensation the references are excellent and the book covers a lot of good material.

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