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Economy Minister Diane Dodds has announced a new £3m scheme to help micro-business retailers develop their sales online. The scheme will open to applications tonight.

The Covid-19 Micro-business E-commerce Grant has been developed by Invest Northern Ireland to help retail micro-businesses grow their business online. It follows on from the success of Invest NI’s Covid-19 Digital Selling Capability Grant.

The Minister said: “The ongoing restrictions and current closure of our high streets means that many businesses need to pivot to online selling. For micro-businesses this can be a big step and this grant will help those with some basic online presence to develop this into a full online retail solution. In doing so the scheme will support these smaller retailers to develop and grow their customer base and find new markets.”

Micro-sized retailers are those employing fewer than 10 people, with retail premises and which derive the majority of their turnover from retail customers.

Some of the eligible activities covered by the scheme include engaging the services of a supplier to review your current digital marketing capabilities and online sales channels, develop an e-commerce strategy, develop or enhance your e-commerce website or online presence to drive increased sales or to help improve the digital marketing and e-commerce capability of the employees in the business. Full details on criteria, eligibility and how to apply are available on nibusinessinfo.

The scheme will open to applications at 6pm tonight, Tuesday 2 February 2021.

Kevin Holland, CEO, Invest Northern Ireland said: “Our first digital selling scheme in 2020 offered support to small and medium-sized retailers and committed £1m of support. This new scheme now focuses on the smaller, micro-sized retailers, and with additional funding provided by the Department, has up to £3m of support available.

“Covid has shown us how quickly commercial circumstances can change and, for retailers, how the ability to sell online can make all the difference to their long-term viability. This scheme will provide a vital source of support to help retailers grow and maximise their online presence, providing a new route to customers for the future. Eligible businesses will be able to receive a maximum grant of £5,000 towards up to 80 per cent of eligible costs.”

The call for applications will close at 6pm on Friday 12 March 2021.

Smyth Patterson in Lisburn was awarded funding from a similar Digital Selling Capability Grant scheme launched by the Department last year to help retailers and wholesalers generate business online.

Smyth Patterson’s Managing Director, Colin Patterson, said: “The impact of Covid-19 has resulted in a significant shift in consumer buying habits towards more online purchasing. Invest NI’s Digital Selling Capability Grant has given us access to digital experts who are helping us to create a new e-Commerce website to improve our service online.

“Launching in March 2021, our new website will help us drive online sales in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland and help us to increase turnover by 20 per cent over the next three years. We are optimistic that this growth in sales will also require us to increase our team in the near future. We would encourage those micro retail businesses who need extra online support to avail of this new scheme and secure the future of their business.”