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Digital marketing technology adoption by fashion retail Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the context of the pandemic: an analysis based on the diffusion of innovations theory

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posted on 2023-09-06, 14:37 authored by Helena DillonHelena Dillon

Context: With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) found themselves forced to move online quickly to keep their businesses operating. This was particularly evident in the fashion retail sector with non-essential services being forced to close their doors.

Problem: Given the speed to which these SMEs had to adapt, quick decisions needed to be made on what technology would support them promote their products/services online to ensure they could reach their target audience(s).

Objective: This research aims to identify what technology was adopted and why, and whether the chosen technology supports these businesses reach their audience and their business goals. The research respondents were predominantly Ireland based. This research asks the following questions:

1. What digital marketing technologies have fashion retail SMEs adopted?

2. What Diffusion of Innovations (DOI) factors affect social media and Search technology adoption, and to what extent did adoption change pre and post COVID-19?

3. How do the potential consumers of these SMEs perceive this technology as it relates to digital marketing and their customer journey?

Methods: This research used a mixed methods approach that includes:

• A literature review into the technology adoption models that would be applicable here;

• An SME analysis through:

o interviews with a set of Ireland-based fashion retail SMEs to understand how they operated from a digital marketing adoption standpoint prior to COVID-19 and now today;

o a questionnaire across a set of SMEs in the fashion retail sector to gain extra insight and understanding of the SME decision-making process and to validate the findings in the initial interview process;

o an analysis of 105 fashion retail websites in Ireland to understand their digital marketing strategies and understand if it was consistent with the survey findings.

• A Consumer analysis through a questionnaire with consumers of these SMEs on the technology they most prefer to use when purchasing online and why.

• Application of the Diffusion of Innovations (DOI) theory to understand how SMEs prioritise current platform usage and decision-making

Results: 1) There are a number of digital marketing technologies being used by SMEs, but the main ones appear to be Instagram, Facebook, Search engine technology and Email Marketing. From this research, Instagram and Facebook appear to be the most used technologies by SMEs and Observability, Relative advantage and the lack of Complexity of these platforms appears to be contributing to the adoption of these technologies. However, the Confirmation stage does not appear to have been completed yet with a large percentage of respondents not being able to say with certainty that they can measure the Return on Investment of these two platforms.

2) COVID-19 appears to have been a catalyst to accelerate the fashion retail SME usage of these technologies.

3) Consumer research findings suggest a preference for Search technology as the most preferred technology to use when purchasing online, with Facebook being their least preferred technology.

Conclusion: Based on the data collected and analysed, this research:

1) confirms the impact of COVID-19 on digital marketing technology adoption.

2) applies and extends the DOI. The Confirmation stage of the DOI theory is an important stage that should determine whether an SME continues, optimises or stops using a technology that was previously adopted The research also contributes to Computer Science (CS) with design recommendations for digital marketing technology providers to consider to support both SMEs and the Consumers they are targeting to more easily and effectively use their technologies. These recommendations could support the completion of the Confirmation stage for SMEs.



  • Faculty of Science and Engineering


  • Master (Research)

First supervisor

Katie Crowley

Second supervisor

Tabea De Wille

Department or School

  • Computer Science & Information Systems

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