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UK SME success damaged by “shocking levels of digital unreadiness”

British consumers are increasingly turning to mobiles and the web to engage with products, but SMEs are trailing when it comes to supporting their shopping habits, which is suffocating their potential for success.
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Indeed, 66 per cent of consumers use the internet to search for information about goods and services, while three-quarters shop online, according to the research from media firm Johnston Press and SME data services provider BuzzBoard. The study observed factors including website and search engine readiness, online marketing, and multiscreen compatibility to determine how prepared UK companies are for digital.

On 16 December, Real Business reported that online sales in the UK spiked by 135 per cent year-on-year on Black Friday. Now, the new data from Johnston and BuzzBoard found that 30 per cent of orders on the day were made via mobile devices, dipping slightly to 22 per cent on Cyber Monday. 

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However, while this presents a potential opportunity for companies to generate more business at all hours and from any location, 71 per cent of UK SMEs “remain incapable of handling mobile shoppers” due to a lack of optimisation, showcasing “shocking levels of digital unreadiness”.

Almost half of SMEs at 44 per cent don’t actually have a website, and 93 per cent of the ones that do are failing to provide a contact number on the homepage, while 94 per cent neglect to offer a map or location and 79 per cent don’t reveal their address.

Chris Brake, MD of Johnston Press’ Digital Kitbag service, said: “Digital opportunities offer huge potential for SMEs and so it is shocking to see so few are getting this right. SMEs are in a prime position to drive the UK economy, but to fulfil their potential they must recognise the importance of digital and also take advantage of the numerous sources of help and advice available to them.”

Meanwhile, just half of SME websites have a contact form and only 39 per cent have a contact email address for customers to reach them by, while 80 per cent of sites aren’t available over multiple platforms, such as desktop, laptop, smartphone, tablet and so on.

In keeping with a Small Business Saturday report that found social media usage to drive business is a missed opportunity, the Johnstone and BuzzBoard study found just 15 per cent use email marketing and only 11 per cent of those are using the platform to send promotions.

Additionally, 69 per cent have no Twitter account, 70 per cent have no Facebook account and 89 per cent have no LinkedIn account, even though they’re all free to use. Elsewhere, 91 per cent are without AdWords thus it’s unlikely to maximise sales from search engines, and 95 per cent had no shopping basket.

Trevor Nadeau, MD EMEA, BuzzBoard, said: “With nine in ten people in the UK now using the internet, there is huge potential for small businesses to compete on a much larger scale than ever before, so it is almost unbelievable how many are failing to capitalise on this.

“There is a clear need to address the misconception that digital strategies need be complex, and educate small businesses about the options available to help boost their digital presence.”

Interestingly, two-thirds said they would seek external advice, but just 24 per cent of have done so.

Image via Shutterstock.

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About Author

Zen Terrelonge

Zen Terrelonge is the deputy editor of Real Business, specialising in media, innovation, technology and the digital sector. A media professional with eight years worth of experience he has worked for both startup and established publications.

Real Business