UK behind as SMEs fail to embrace e-commerce
Recently we’ve been reading a lot about how the UK’s small businesses are using e-commerce, and have come across some surprising statistics. While the bulk of the week’s headlines have been about the UK’s position in Europe, research also suggests that SMEs here are flagging on the e-commerce front.
A study has shown that only 59 per cent of UK small businesses see e-commerce channels as a business opportunity – compared with 72 per cent of similar businesses across the rest of Europe.
Mary Portas, the TV presenter and retail expert, unveiled a report this week looking into ways of reviving High Street retailers. She put the decline of town centres down to a combination of booming online and out-of-town shopping, and her comments sparked a great deal of discussion via social media. Despite this decline, research suggests that as many as one in three UK small businesses actually see e-commerce as a threat.
Small businesses that have seen recent success, haven’t necessarily embraced e-commerce channels. The Telegraph featured a report today on Raft Furniture, a London-based business that makes and sells furniture made exclusively from “reclaimed” Indonesian teak. Raft’s success so far has been put down to its unusual product, rather than the use of new channels. Co-founder Mick Quinn says that “Our furniture is warts and all. That’s the beauty of it”, adding that “You’d be horrified if you ordered it from the web and didn’t know.”
The company’s logical next step would seem to be expansion via online channels, yet they are reluctant to turn to the internet, preferring to build a franchise network instead. Despite suspecting he’s “missing a trick”, Quinn goes on to say: “I don’t know how much we can do with e-commerce, but it’s a weak spot. I’m using a company that’s primarily used to data, accounting and systems management to do it at the moment.”
Such reluctance, especially when compared to European neighbours, has prompted the government to offer UK start-ups training and insight into e-commerce, with the launch of a “Web Fuelled Business Initiative” seminar scheme.
According to the Government’s website, “soft” barriers to trade such as lack of confidence and social links are discouraging small businesses from the online market. Researchers in the Downing Street behavioural insight team found that firms could significantly boost sales by enhancing their online presence.
These attempts to encourage businesses to become more “web-savvy” have been welcomed by Phil McCabe, senior policy advisor from the Forum of Private Business. His view is that the UK’s SMEs should be encouraged to investigate all opportunities to grow and promote their businesses. We’re sure that Mary Portas would approve as well.
What has your business done to embrace e-commerce channels? Do you feel concerned that the UK’s SMEs are not as forward-thinking as their continental European counterparts?