Retailing supports jobs in every city, town and village in the country and so it is critical that our retail sector is competing at the forefront of the digital revolution. As Chair of the Retail Consultation Forum, I have prioritised supporting the retail sector to develop their online capability in order for them to expand their market reach nationally and internationally and enhance their competitiveness.
Increasing the international sales of Irish companies translates into sustaining and creating high-quality, sustainable jobs across the country – something that this Government is firmly focused on through the Future Jobs Ireland framework. In support of this, I introduced a new pilot Online Retail Scheme, administered by Enterprise Ireland, in September 2018. The €1.25m fund, is targeted at retailers with an online presence to encourage acceleration of their online offerings and can be used to fund research, strategy development, implementation and training.
The fund will provide grants between €10,000 and €25,000 on a match fund basis with the purpose of enhancing their online offering. Applications for funding under this pilot Scheme are considered on a competitive basis under calls for applications. Once the fund criteria is met, at least half of the total number of funds will be awarded to Irish retail businesses based outside of Dublin. By delivering the Online Retail Scheme, I intend to support Irish retailers to innovate, and through innovation, increase their competitiveness and international reach.
The first call opened on 24th October 2018 and closed on 5th December 2018, I announced the eleven successful applicants on 1st March 2019 in Skibbereen, Co. Cork. The approved applications were in sectors ranging from; pharmacy, giftware, lifestyle, entertainment, outdoor clothing and equipment, garden furniture and safety equipment. Following the first call, my Officials in conjunction with EI, undertook a review of the feedback on Call 1 to examine ways in which the Scheme offering could be strengthened.
On foot of that, I approved that the eligibility criteria of the scheme be expanded to widen the reach of the scheme. The scheme will now accept applications from Irish-based retailers with 10 or more full-time employees (including over 250 employees). Call 1 of the Online Retail Scheme was open to applications from Irish owned retail businesses with 20 or more employees, and who have a physical retail outlet. By opening up the Scheme to more retailers for Call 2, I expect to see even stronger interest and volume of applications.
In addition, Enterprise Ireland delivered advisory clinics for retailers at the Retail Excellence Retail Retreat Conference 21-22 May, 2019. The clinics offered retailers an opportunity to raise questions or issues in relation to the application process for Call 2 of the pilot Online Retail Scheme and receive expert advice from Enterprise Ireland.
Peer learning is an integral aspect of the pilot Online Retail Scheme in order to encourage knowledge sharing. Enterprise Ireland have already held online retail specific workshops with the successful entrants from Call 1 and further workshops are planned for the successful applicants from Call 2.
The second call of the pilot Online Retail Scheme opened for applications on 19 June 2019 and will close at 3pm on 31 July 2019. I look forward to announcing the successful applicants from Call 2 later this year.