AMIDST the gloom of a lockdown January it’s hard to see a bright side but a silver lining to the coronavirus cloud could be the number of businesses across Scotland that have embraced ecommerce for the first time.

For artists, craft workers and microbusinesses particularly, a move online has staved off penury and for some has been so successful that they expect to continue to benefit post-Covid.

Island and rural communities are among those that have been quick to take advantage of a move to ecommerce and, in a year where tourist income has been cut drastically, it has been a vital lifeline.

Online marketplaces have sprung up offering small enterprises a way of selling their wares via the internet without the complication of setting up their own system.

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The results have been so good the initiatives are likely to remain to help maintain sales throughout the year rather than just during the tourist season.

“Covid pushed ecommerce forward about 10 years,” said Joe McFadden who, along with his partner Chloe, set up an online marketplace for Mull and Iona after the pandemic struck.

“I think we would have got there eventually but Covid made everyone do it. Here we are really dependent on people coming and it would be good to keep this going in some capacity so that it is there in the winter months.”

The couple, who both have day jobs and a toddler to look after, were prompted to set up when they saw the impact the pandemic was having on small businesses that rely on tourism. They were also aware there were many creative people on the island who were not selling their products and felt an online marketplace would be a welcome start.

“It’s normally a bit of a risk to put yourself out there and make a website but people can use us like a stepping stone to what they want to do,” said McFadden.

Interest in the site has grown quickly.

“We were stunned by how many people were buying in December and November,” he said.

“It was incredible. People are so conscious now about shopping locally or at least in Scotland and with small businesses. They are looking out for places like us so it is definitely the right time for it.”

McFadden believes the trend to shop local will continue even once the pandemic is under control.

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“It seems to be more fashionable to try and get more unique things,” he said.

Another island marketplace created as a response to the pandemic is Isle20 which covers all the Scottish islands with 142 vendors and around 3000 listed products.

It also lists more than 450 small island businesses that are not necessarily selling on the marketplace. After fees and shipping, costs of approximately £60,000 were put into the pockets of small businesses who sold via the social enterprise in 2020.

Founder Rhoda Meek, who lives on Tiree, said that although the online marketplace was born out of the initial crisis and “panic” about the lack of tourists, she hoped it would continue.

“There is increasing interest in buying local and supporting small businesses and I don’t think that trend is going anywhere,” she said.

“My hope is that Isle20 and other similar sites will continue to provide a little bit of extra income, increase sales over the winter and help to play a part in building a more

resilient economy.”

Meek pointed out that the pandemic had exposed some fundamental flaws in the islands’ economies.

“You never expect not to have tourist footfall but it happened and if it happens once it could again,” she said. “There is a need for the website and there is a life to this beyond Covid, without a shadow of a doubt. It allows people who visit a lot, or expats who have a link to a favourite island, to have a real relationship with the islands and know they are helping.”

The marketplace, which is run as a social enterprise has just received funding from Highlands and Islands Enterprise for a part-time member of staff.

“I am excited about being able to employ someone as the whole goal of this was to be able to support folk and get jobs,” said Meek.

Founded by Glasgow School of Art graduates Jan Wright and Penny Morton, Shop Small Glasgow was set up in November and has already reached 1000 followers on Instagram, which they say highlights the interest in shopping local.

“Shop Small Glasgow looks to bridge that gap between the physical high streets and the new digital age by providing independent locals with an online infrastructure and network, which they can use to help grow and compete with big brand equivalents,” they said.

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A move online has led to one Glasgow-based brewery actually registering growth in 2020, despite revenue plummeting to zero when the first lockdown began.

“It was scary times,” said James Kidd, head of sales at Overtone.

Luckily the brewery, which was founded in 2018, had just been granted a licence to sell beer directly from the premises to customers and, as it already had a fairly large social media following, was able to quickly set up a system for online orders which has helped to grow the business.

Online tastings have also grown in popularity and may well continue after lockdown.

“We did one with a customer in Denmark last week as there are 12 stockists of our beer there,” said Kidd. “It was really cool and nice to meet people you would never normally be able to meet.

“There also seems to be a bit of a demand for tastings that pair craft beer with whisky so any way we can get our beer into new customers’ hands is something we want to embrace,” Kidd said.

Chris Greenwood, senior tourism insight manager, at VisitScotland, agreed there had been a drive towards “localism” and online retail although consumers still wanted to browse in shops for artisan food, craft products and luxury items.

“The tourism industry can appeal to both, generating revenue both when visitors are on holiday at peak times and when they want to relive that experience at home for the rest of the year,” said Greenwood.