Key Guidelines to Online Marketplaces

source: eBusiness Live

eMarkets are online meeting places where companies from similar sectors or territories can engage in a plethora of business-to-business activities. These range from straightforward e-tendering and advertising to complex reverse auctions with participants from across the globe. 

As part of its push to raise awareness of eMarkets, Enterprise Ireland has published a comprehensive guide called "eMarkets and Online Directories - a Handbook for Small Businesses". The handbook is available to download from the eMarket Services website.

The aim of the guidebook is to bring the concept of eMarkets to the attention of Irish companies - particularly small firms - who wish to further their online strategies. 

"eMarkets are essentially like giant online trade fairs," says Karen Hynes, eBusiness manager at Enterprise Ireland's eBusiness Unit. "They are usually broken down by sector, region or country." These web-based business-to-business (B2B) meeting places have become a successful tool for several economic sectors in North America - particularly automotive and pharmaceuticals. 

Buying or selling

Enterprise Ireland and its European partners have already catalogued around 800 individual eMarkets that are relevant to Irish companies. These B2B networks are based on existing internet infrastructure and require no special technology to gain access besides standard PC web browsing software and an internet connection.

The concept behind the eMarkets idea is to create sector-wide or geographical databases of buyers and suppliers. From a seller's perspective, eMarkets are useful for finding new leads, offering new and used products for sale or searching through tender databases. Meanwhile, buyers can avail of online marketplaces to search for new suppliers, post niche product requests or find new or used equipment. Regardless of which side of the sales equation a company finds itself on, eMarkets are also undoubtedly handy for quickly and efficiently keeping an eye on what the opposition is up to.

Some eMarkets are private, invitation-only affairs - such as the big US automobile industry forum - but most are open to application from any interested party. Some charge a fee for membership and others do not.

Although there is as yet no specifically Irish eMarketplace, several Irish firms are quietly integrating with sectoral online groups to expand their business footprint overseas.

 "We're not saying everyone should suddenly be doing all their business through eMarkets, but rather that firms take advantage of these concentrations of linked enterprises as a business and marketing tool," says Hynes. "If SMEs have already begun to use opportunities presented by the internet, such as developing up-to-date and functional websites, this is the next logical step in progressing an online strategy."

Extending your reach

Enterprise Ireland's eBusiness Unit has researched the growing phenomenon in the US and found that eMarkets are particularly suited to buyers and sellers of products in bulk quantities. However, the attraction for smaller companies is extending their reach into sectors or geographies where they are not known or the possibility of picking up large-scale bargains or second-hand equipment.

eMarkets are also useful for organising working agreements online, which might otherwise be complex and expensive to arrange between several geographically and sectorally disparate companies. Reverse auctions and mutually beneficial electronic data transfers are just two common arrangements which have proved successful in eMarket environments.

In terms of access to data, a major attraction is that a firm looking to purchase products can quickly ascertain which supplier physically has the amount of specific goods it needs by accessing inventories with internationally agreed upon NACE product codes.

"Functions like this don't supercede the normal channels of doing business with other firms," says Hynes. "Contacting and meeting people in person is how the majority of business is done, but eMarkets should help speed up the early parts of this process and streamline it."

Enterprise Ireland is currently working with trade development bodies in Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Spain, Australia and the Netherlands to promote a joint approach to eMarkets.

The eMarkets handbook is available to download from the eMarket Services website.