Go digital, unleash potential — Kim Lato

Her message is simple and the meaning clear. Do what you love, focus on your goal, work hard and believe that no matter what happens, you will succeed.

Kim Lato, who founded Kimstore, the most successful gadgets e-Commerce store when she was an 18-year-old student at De La Salle University using the money he collected from Christmas gifts, reminded people of the old adage that you don’t need a huge capital to start a business.

“Nothing is impossible,” Lato told this writer when she guested in Daily Tribune’s digital show Usapang Business. “All you need is to dream and dream big. You can start a business with only P5,000 or P20,000, and the amount of capital should not stop you from starting. You must be passionate and accept that your number one supporter will be yourself and your family. Mine is my mother.”

It is crucial, too, to leverage technology, particularly online platforms, that are critical in the digital transition, providing virtual channels for the growth of small and medium enterprises.

“e-Commerce allows SMEs to reach a wider market even if you are small or medium-sized operations by selling online. You have to go digital,” Lato added.

The inconvenience brought by the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the digital adoption among Filipinos. e-Commerce has become the norm for food, medicine, electronics, and even luxury purchases.

There are many tools to embrace digital adoption, including digital payments and marketplaces, allowing merchants and SMEs to sell their products and services online. The government support, through the Department of Trade and Industry, is also encouraging micro, small and medium enterprises to go online selling, Lato added.

Online uptake

However, Lato noted that despite the many anecdotal stories about how small enterprises have grown by selling through e-commerce, the SMEs’ uptake of digital technology remains limited and behind bigger enterprises ignoring the apparent advantages that leveraging digital platforms can improve SMEs’ productivity.

She explained that online platforms could lower operational costs, provide access to business intelligence services and generate economies of scale for SMEs.

In addition, the SMEs could take advantage of economies of scope as e-Commerce platforms could reduce information asymmetry, increase client/supplier base, widen market outreach and outsource logistics.

She recognized the challenges and risks faced by SMEs operating an e-Commerce business. The most highlighted are the insufficient digital skills and the adaption of digital business models. There are also issues with the fee structures imposed by some online platforms and the sharing of sensitive business information with implicit acceptance on which SMEs have no control or even information.

Lato suggests that SMEs must raise their awareness and develop their digital skills to increase the uptake of the e-Commerce platform. She reminded SMEs of the importance of establishing a good reputation on social media as there is strong evidence that a higher share of social media has a substantial impact on smaller merchants.

Government regulators have played an essential role in enabling greater acceptance that could foster resilient growth among SMEs. The DTI and other government agencies have been promoting programs in collaboration with large online platforms to advance e-Commerce.

Kim’s advocacy

“We have to be passionate with our business,” Lato added. “No one will help us except us. We have to be patient. Success does not happen overnight,” she said and added that Kimstore has been in the industry for 15 years and overcame the many struggles and challenges.

The biggest, of course, is the Covid-19 pandemic. There were so many uncertainties during the first month of the strict mobility lockdown in 2020, but Lato said those challenges were temporary.

According to Lato, leveraging digital platforms would allow SMEs to overcome size-based challenges and benefit from the digital shift.

e-Commerce platforms provide SMEs access to new markets “beyond their neighborhood.” It also improves efficiencies of operations.

“One of my biggest advocacies is to empower SMEs by providing them the information and tools to start a business and succeed with a small amount of capital. This can happen through e-Commerce,” she said.

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