Telling the truth about SME life today

Small businesses dont need to choose between the physical and digital worlds of commerce

The research took a closer look at the buying habits of 12,000 consumers across 12 countries, and found that the UK has the largest percentage of shoppers that have bought products online from retailers in their own country. 95 per cent have bought goods online from UK retailers, a figure closely followed by German shoppers, 94 per cent of whom have bought online from retailers in Germany. 

Consumers from France are also fans of online stores based in the UK and Germany: 73 per cent are happy to shop with companies based in the UK and 76 per cent with those in Germany. Theyre around four times more likely to shop online with these regions than with businesses based in Asia or South America. 

Clearly, consumers from the UK, France and Germany feel they have great value, good shipping rates and a broad choice of products when they shop within these markets. They feel comfortable with the languages and currencies. And chances are, they are receiving a great customer experience.

The common denominator of businesses in the UK and Germany Size. Small businesses are the engine room of both the German and UK economies. Over 99 per cent of businesses in the UK are small or medium sized businesses, according to 2013 figures from the House of Commons. In Germany, small and medium-sized businesses make up over 99 per cent of all businesses paying sales tax, and create 70 per cent of the jobs. They also develop 75 per cent of all patents and innovations. 

Herein lies the beauty of eCommerce. The internet is a fantastic equaliser, and eCommerce continues to bring consumer choice, while creating opportunities for businesses large and small. Our enthusiasm for online shopping shows no sign of abating in fact Amazon recorded sales of approximately 64 items every second on Cyber Monday , the first Monday in December but this enthusiasm isnt reserved for large businesses alone. 

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Amazons results make the headlines, but quality products, an engaging, user-friendly website and impeccable customer service are often the foundations for commercial success, and these are by no means qualities reserved for large organisations. Add to this list a lively but manageable social media presence think precise, accurate responses to Tweets, posting new product images on Pinterest or timely Facebook posts and it’s easy to see how small can be beautiful, as smaller businesses provide a smart, personalised, engaging customer experience that encourages repeat business and drives growth.

Small Business Saturday is one such occasion where we celebrate those small businesses with a physical presence in towns and on high streets so we can go in, see them and get to know them. We love experiencing our diverse, eclectic high streets, where takeaways and osteopaths rub shoulders (literally) with tattoo parlours. And yet, in Germany, France and the UK, high streets continue to change as business models shift with the times. Shoppers are being lured away from town centres to hypermarkets and out-of-town retail parks promising discounts galore.

Many small businesses with a presence on the high street have been crippled by skyrocketing rents and a reduction in passing trade. Their response To embrace eCommerce and move online, passing savings on to customers and leaving the high street to service industries and those retailers whose business depends on a physical presence: bridal boutiques, delicatessens, bakers and pound shops.

eCommerce has played a part in changing our high streets, but it hasnt shut them down as naysayers forecast. Instead, it has opened up opportunities for multichannel commerce, increasing competition, consumer choice, value and convenience.

Now, small businesses dont need to choose between the physical and digital worlds of commerce, as the Clicks and Mortar business model becomes commonplace, and businesses integrate online and onsite operations to create a seamless customer experience. As consumer and business owner alike, we can choose to support local businesses, ordering products online, and collecting them from a store nearby, whenever it suits us. We can browse products on our mobiles during our commute, check stock on our laptops later in the day, and buy from our tablets in the evening, with the same goods appearing in our shopping cart however we access the website. If we choose to, we can move our purchasing power across geographic boundaries, giving us greater choice as consumers, and enabling small businesses to penetrate overseas markets. 

Yes, we should consider leaving the retail parks alone for a day or two. We can wander down to our high streets, call in to the local deli. But we must remember to go online and support the wealth of innovative small businesses which exist in the Ether. Its down to us to make sure that for those online SMEs it doesnt become a case of out of sight, out of mind. Were living in the age of the entrepreneur, and theres at least one behind every small business, online or on the High Street. Its time to applaud their success and thank them for the vibrant, dynamic market they have created.

Ian Davidson is president for SMB Mailing Europe at Pitney Bowes.



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