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From Bricks to Clicks

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From Bricks to Clicks

Why we need to support our SMEs whether onsite or online

The UK and Germany are fiercely loyal when it comes to supporting home-grown businesses, according to Pitney Bowes’  Global Online Shopping Study.  French shoppers, whilst virtually venturing further afield to spend their Euros, still like to shop within the European boundaries.  Pitney Bowes’ 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% have bought goods online from UK retailers, a figure closely followed by German shoppers, 94% 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% are happy to shop with companies based in the UK and 76% with those in Germany. They’re 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% of businesses in the UK are small or medium sized businesses, according to 2013 figures from the House of Commons1.  In Germany, small and medium-sized businesses make up over 99% of all businesses paying sales tax, and create 70% of the jobs.  They also develop 75% of all patents and innovations2. 

Herein lies the beauty of eCommerce. The Internet is a fantastic equaliser, and eCommerce continues to bring consumer choice, whilst 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 isn’t reserved for large businesses alone. Amazon’s 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 a day dedicated to supporting and celebrating small and medium enterprises (SMEs). The day is celebrated across Europe at different times of the year.  This year in the UK, it’s on Saturday 6th December. SMEs across the nation open their doors to the public: garages invite us for tea and cake; there is free parking in some town centres; we can join seminars and networking events; and vintage sellers, artists and craft shops share the tricks of their trade.  The onus is on celebrating 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 hasn’t 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 don’t 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 consumers, 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. It’s down to us to make sure that for those online SMEs it doesn’t become a case of out of sight, out of mind.  We’re living in the age of the entrepreneur, and there’s at least one behind every small business, online or on the High Street. It’s time to applaud their success and thank them for the vibrant, dynamic market they have created.

 

 

 

1Figures from Business Statistics report, 14th July 2014, by Chris Rhodes of the Economic Policy and Statistics section of the House of Commons

 

2Figures from the Bundesverband mittelstandische Wirtschaft

 

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