Exporters face trouble ahead

vLinx warns of potential problems ahead for Singapore exporters in accessing Western markets. This will be particularly true for those SMEs which lag behind in adoption of IT and e-commerce .

SINGAPORE - vLinx, an Internet-based business-to-business door-to-door trading community, has sent a wake-up call, predicting exporters may find themselves shut off from markets in the West by 2003 as a significant amount of international trade migrates from one-to-one transactions to online business exchanges.

Citing the slow adoption of information technology by some segments of Singapore exporters, Shannon Boase, president of Asia for vLinx said, "These small and medium-sized enterprises will pay a heavy price if they become sidelined in the international marketplace by more Internet-savvy competitors.”

"Over the years, Singapore had an edge over many other exporting countries because of its competitive prices and high quality products.

"Although these two competitive elements will remain, some real threats are looming with the emergence of the New Economy, where the mechanics of buying and selling are moving away from one-to-one physical contact to online marketplaces.

"While the buying and selling on Internet marketplaces is expected to balloon in the next 24 months, some Singaporean SMEs aren't even in the ballpark," said Boase.

Boase also counseled companies to be open, flexible and accommodating to a new way of doing business.

"For example, when you are doing business with a company that you have just met for the first time 'on line', you will have to establish trust in new ways either via references from business partners or value-added services," she said. "It's an entirely new way of doing business."

Boase went on to say that geographical distance and personal networking would diminish as major considerations in global trading. The Gartner Group, a US based high-tech research firm, has predicted that by 2005, more than 500,000 companies worldwide will participate in e-marketplaces, as buyers or sellers.

"While Singapore is listed as one of Asia’s Internet tigers, there are still many who are not participating in online exchanges, a sorry situation as in consumer goods alone, there is a vast market waiting to be tapped.

“Manufacturers who keep going through the traditional person-to-person route, however, will bypass new opportunities because they have not invested in IT," added Boase.

Turning to the vLinx e-marketplace, Boase said it enables suppliers and buyers of surplus consumer goods to transact online -- from virtual display of their products to bidding, payment, appraisal, to sampling, insurance, inspection and final delivery.

"Buyers in North America are going online and demand their suppliers to move to the Net, to speed up and simplify communications, cut costs and expedite transactions. This also means that both buyers and suppliers will be able to receive their goods and payments in the shortest time possible," explained Boase.

"It's not about prices and goods anymore. Traditional exporters need to adopt technology as part of their value-added services by speeding up the process, from initial interface to negotiating, payments to final delivery.

"Newcomers who foresee the potential of e-marketplace and adopt e-commerce fast enough will be able to capture market share," she said.

Boase added that e-marketplaces are not the hit-and-miss affairs normally associated with one-on-one e-commerce. Exporters should not fear to join these online exchanges as e-marketplaces exist within defined industry groups with clear rules of engagement and mechanisms.

"Singaporean exporters, especially consumer goods manufacturers, have great opportunity to boost their exports, with projections by Forrester Research predicting that online sales of consumer goods through global e-marketplace will grow to US$216 billion by 2004.

"It's vital that Singaporean exporters wake up, and act fast,” said Boase.

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