Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to empirically examine the influence of the internet on the internationalisation process and international customer relationship interactions of UK manufacturing small to medium‐sized enterprises (SMEs). The paper is positioned at the interface of the literature on international entrepreneurship and the internet. Design/methodology/approach – The paper discusses the findings from multiple case studies of ten UK manufacturing SMEs from a variety of UK sectors, producing high‐, medium‐ and low‐tech offerings. In‐depth interviews with directors or managers of the SMEs were conducted. Individual and cross‐case analysis was carried out using coding frameworks to reduce and analyse the data and capture patterns in the findings. Findings – The findings reveal how the influence of the internet in the internationalisation process and international customer relationship interactions differed in the high‐, medium‐or low‐tech SME categories. The influence of the internet differed across three main dimensions: the way in which the SMEs invested in and used different internet applications for internationalisation and customer relationship support, the SMEs' perceptions of the internet as a tool to support communication with international customers; the SMEs' reliance on more personal and interactive forms of contact with international customers. Practical implications – The results demonstrate that the level of technological advancement of an SME's offerings has an important bearing on how these firms adopt the internet in their internationalisation process and gain advantages in their international customer interactions. The managerial implications of the study are relevant for manufacturing SMEs, their customers and government agencies involved with SMEs. Originality/value – This research is amongst the first empirical contributions to examine the themes of the internet, internationalisation and international customer interactions in UK manufacturing SMEs and to highlight the importance of the level of technological advancement of an SME's offerings in distinguishing the ways in which the internet is used by entrepreneurial small firms in their internationalisation process.
Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development – Emerald Publishing
Published: Aug 9, 2011
Keywords: Internationalisation; Internet; Customer relations; UK manufacturers; Small to medium‐sized enterprises; United Kingdom; International business
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