Pictured: Alice Mansergh, Director of Customer Solutions, Google
Alice Mansergh is the Director of Customer Solutions for UK and Ireland in Google. There, she helps hundreds of thousands of small and medium sized businesses across Ireland and the UK to get online and thrive as written by Sarah Freeman.
Note: This piece was originally published in Business & Finance magazine, vol. 59, no. 1, available to read, with compliments, here.
“It went from being a nice-to-have to something everyone felt ‘this is quite critical — I need to be online’.”
“Typically what happens is a small business will be playing around with online themselves. Then we try to reach out to them to see if they could use help. My team mostly works with Google advertising customers and helps them export all over the world.”
The idea is that many of the solutions are relatively easy to use so people with limited technical experience can use them. Mansergh takes on the responsibility for ensuring help is given wherever it’s required.
“I do feel personally quite passionate about making sure that no SMB gets left behind and actually that’s why we launched a lot of supports during coronavirus. It’s not just about helping customers that are already online to thrive but that we were really getting out to all four corners of Ireland to try and help every business.
Mansergh was well established in her role long before the pandemic hit. She describes how the internet provided something of a lifeline.
“When COVID first hit, it was a very very scary time for consumers and business. We all found ourselves shut at home with just a computer screen wondering what on earth to do. Amazingly, people managed to work from home, work online, meet colleagues, keep their kids entertained, school their kids, research things, develop things, buy things. It’s kind of extraordinary how we were all able to live and stay safe at home and still get everything that we needed to get done, done. The internet was our way of being safe at home but connecting with others. It really underlined to businesses, if there was any way they could operate online, they should have an online purpose. It went from being a nice-to-have to something everyone felt “this is quite critical – I need to be online.”
She said businesses in Ireland responded and adapted with alacrity.
“There was definitely an upsurge in interest but it was daunting for many businesses as well. That was one of the reasons why at Google we wanted to thank Ireland because it’s been our home, it’s been our EMEA Headquarters for a long time and we really wanted to give back to the community so we invested a lot in putting simple step-by-step training so that small business owners could, from the comfort of their own home, follow the steps.”
“There are other tech competitors out there who definitely keep us on our toes.”
Ultimately, over the course of the pandemic, Google helped 60,000 businesses through the supports with up to 40,000 availing of the online training.
The dangers of a small number of large companies having a monopoly on areas of the internet are well known. Mansergh says Google welcomes competition.
“It’s very healthy. Part of the reason we want to get SME’s online and thrive is so that you don’t end up with just one website that everyone has to buy everything from. Personally, that is part of the reason why I feel passionately about helping smaller websites, developers and business owners to get online and thrive. There are other tech competitors out there who definitely keep us on our toes. The bit that I personally lean into is making sure that it’s not just a few e-commerce sites.”
Mansergh said the emphasis and interest in buying local is increasingly apparent.
“The really important thing to make sure of is that Irish local businesses can get online and compete and thrive. What we saw from the search data during the pandemic was that Irish people were suddenly buying a lot online. But awareness of wanting to buy from a local business online had never been higher. It suddenly felt important that some of the purchase behaviour was going back to local businesses.”
Businesses now appreciate the increased importance of an online presence. So what will become of the bricks and mortar? Should companies aim to continue a dual presence shopfront?
Mansergh says analysis of the data suggests many of the behaviours learnt over the past two years are likely to continue well into the future and says a hybrid approach to retail business is the most likely.
“I’m not sure people are looking forward to commuting into some distant retail centre and queuing for hours to get into a changing room. There are certain aspects of online that people have enjoyed. Our advice to businesses would be to keep an eye on the trends but think about yourselves, think about your firm. The search query data suggests people are still shopping at home, working online and it’s incredibly important that you’re there. The best advice if you are a bricks and mortar business is give people the option that they can find you online and buy online if they want to and that’s it’s easy to see your opening hours, how can they reach you if they want to come in store. That hybrid approach for bricks and mortar, omni-channel business will be the way of the future I think.”
The phrase, global village, took on a new meaning in the retail world. Mansergh saw a number of businesses move online to serve their local customers and then suddenly saw their customer base increase internationally with new buyers emerging across the globe.
“A lightbulb goes off,” said Mansergh, “when businesses realise that they’re not just restricted to one small catchment area.”
She said Irish retailers are competitive, with the EU’s Digital Economy and Society Index placing Ireland 5th in 2021, an increase from our placement as 6th in 2020. With 66% of Irish SMB’s now classed as having ‘basic digital intensity’ or digital aptitude, the country compares favourably with the EU average of 60%.
“We now have 32% of Irish SME’s selling online compared with an average of 17%,” noted Mansergh.
Her counsel to those striving for success is to disregard any feelings of imposter syndrome.
“We can be quite critical of ourselves sometimes. There have been points in my career where I nearly let that little voice hold me back. Thankfully I had people around me to push me. I really learned from that. Don’t be the one who holds you back.”
She has seen many small Irish business owners falter in their journey to get online because they don’t feel they have any extensive technical ability.
“The key point is you don’t necessarily need to be technical to be the business with an online presence. People are 90% more likely to visit your business if they find details about you online. Even in e-commerce now, within half an hour or an hour you can build an e-commerce site. You can do it and there is lots of help out there and you can go step-by-step and it’s well worth it.”