Mind the digital gap between big and small businesses

Mind the digital gap between big and small businesses
Lizzie Slee
Lizzie SleeOfficial

Posted: Wed 11th Oct 2017

While as a nation we're topping all the charts because of the amount we spend online, it seems there is a large cohort of British small businesses that are not feeling the benefit.

According to the UK Cards Association, in 2016 we spent £154 billion with our credit cards online on goods and services - and this figure is only likely to go on one way this year: up. But as the wheels of online commerce turn, it seems it's not an equal playing field.

The Office for National Statistics' E-commerce and ICT Activity Report suggests just 9.7% of all sales from UK-based micro firms (firms with 0-9 employees) were e-commerce transactions in 2016.

This compares with almost 56% of sales from larger firms with 1,000 or more staff on the payroll. It's a worrying statistic and demonstrates a gap that is only growing year-on-year.

The actual digital facts are startling. One in four small firms still don't have a website, 40% aren't using social media to create a market - and it is translating into a massive sales divide.

Big firms have the resources to invest in the latest digital e-commerce and m-commerce functionality, SEO, marketing, social and everything in between. Smaller firms have been slower on the uptake over the years, and seem to have less appetite for it. They are busy simply running the business and don't always see the benefits that digital can deliver.

And yet the irony is that the digital world is an area that they absolutely can compete with larger firms on and for many smaller firms that use it well, it's the one thing that can tempt consumers away from standard, less agile, more mainstream bigger brands which naturally have more brand awareness.

The issue is often a fear of the unknown, an expectation that building a website will be too expensive, time consuming, legally questionable etc. And for smaller companies it's yet another thing on a long to-do list that comes way behind bringing in today's customers, stock control, paying staff and just meeting your daily fiscal responsibilities.

This is a universal problem and it applies here in London - even though we're actually loath to admit it. We're clearly not addressing the trendy start-up firms we read about all the time, eyes glued to our devices.

No, they are firmly rooted in the online world from the word go. We are talking about your local high street shops, cafes, artisan producers, business services, accountants, artists, painters and decorators, mechanics, nannies, restaurants and takeaways.

These are the firms missing out on the digital boom. While it may seem ironic and almost a retrograde step, to make digital progress many will need face-to-face help in real time.

We're not saying let's turn all robo-baker and only employ drones and androids.  We're just saying try this, it's not so bad, doesn't cost the earth and once you try it, you'll understand.

It's why we've launched the Go and Grow Online campaign this week.  In conjunction with our private sector sponsors, Verisign, Curry PC World and Microsoft, we've been able to fund 20 digital experts that will go out and really support small businesses to up their digital game.

The campaign is expected to reach up to 10,000 firms across the UK and while we could attach some artificial figure to the amount of extra business this will bring in for small companies, the most honest thing to say is that it will help to stop the gap from growing even further and create some much-needed equality - before the digital gap becomes a gaping digital hole.

Read more business news on Enterprise Nation

Lizzie Slee
Lizzie SleeOfficial
Head of media for Enterprise Nation and working to get issues and the positive stories in front of the media.

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