€5m digital Covid schemes boost 700 Northern Ireland firms

Schemes are helping SMEs and micro-businesses across Northern Ireland to improve their e-commerce and digital marketing capabilities.

700 businesses across Northern Ireland have signed up for the Covid-19 Digital Selling Capability Grant (DSCG) and Covid-19 Micro-business E-commerce Grant (MBEG).

Both schemes were developed by Invest Northern Ireland to help SMEs and micro-businesses improve their e-commerce and digital marketing capabilities and to grow their online sales in response to the challenges of Covid-19.

“This has ensured that our local retail sector could react quickly to high street restrictions and grow in new ways”

The schemes collectively received £5m of funding, including an allocation from the Department for the Economy’s Economic Recovery Action Plan.

Speaking during a visit to Enniskillen based Houstons, one of the local businesses in the area that received support through DSCG, Northern Ireland Economy Minister Gordon 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, we have a solution!

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 today 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 GB 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.”

Invest NI’s Digital Selling Capability Grant has helped Houstons 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 UK sales now accounting for 75% of our total online sales,” said John Houston, director, Houstons.

“Due to this increase, we’ve employed four new staff to keep up with the growing online demand, and we’re implementing a POS (point of sale) 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, explained: “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 SMEs and 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.”

Main image:  Economy Minister Gordon Lyons; John Houston, Director of Houstons; and Ethna McNamee, Invest NI’s Western Regional Manager

John Kennedy
Award-winning ThinkBusiness.ie editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.