SINGAPORE (Dec 21): E-commerce has been hailed as a great leveller for small and medium-sized enterprises, giving them reach and opportunities in markets previously out of reach.

In Singapore, an estimated 78% of SMEs used e-commerce and exported to other markets within Asia-Pacific, according to a study commissioned by logistics provider FedEx.

Yet, industry observers note that smaller companies face inherent disadvantages, ranging from search engine optimisation to the fragmentation of regulations and access.

They add that sales events such as Singles’ Day on Nov 11, which drove a 237% increase in sales across the region, only increase the competitive pressure among retailers. And the ones who suffer would likely be the smallest players unable to absorb the shortfalls.

The efficiency of last-mile delivery could make the difference for smaller e-commerce players, who still face a big challenge: getting discovered by consumers. The obvious solution is to join the big, existing platform markets such as Lazada, where there is a sizeable customer base.

But there is a price to pay for this, as such arrangements are likely to be more favourable towards the platforms, thus concentrating even more power in their hands and reinforcing what is already an imbalance in the industry.

For all the glowing numbers and untapped potential, has e-commerce been the tide that lifted all boats? Has the availability of the technology really helped the smaller, home-grown retailers?

Find out more in this week’s issue of The Edge Singapore (Issue 862, week of Dec 24), on sale now at newsstands.

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