Exclusive: Britain's small businesses are being held back by "digital immaturity"

Guy Bentley
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SMEs failing to embrace change (Source: Getty)

Britain's small businesses are missing huge opportunities by failing to adapt adequately to the digital age, according to research published today.

The UK's embrace of the American retail tradition of Black Friday has served to highlight how businesses are falling behind their customers. Mobile has become a key part of the consumer experience.

On Black Friday, 30 per cent of online orders were made on mobile, while the figure for Cyber Monday was still a hefty 22 per cent.

Two-thirds of consumers use the web to find relevant information about the things they want to buy, and 75 per cent shop online. However, a whopping 71 per cent of UK small businesses are still incapable of handling online consumers.

Britain's consumers are becoming increasingly tech savvy, providing a major challenge for smaller firms. Research published by Nominet earlier this month showed more than a fifth of consumers expect to be able to email a high street business and a quarter believe that a local high street store’s website says a lot about the company.

The study, commissioned by Johnston Press’ digital marketing service and conducted by Buzzboard examined seven "Digital Readiness" indicators across almost one million small firms in the UK.

The research found in every single category, most small businesses were failing to maximise their potential for sales. Even more worryingly, 44 per cent of small firms had no website to speak of, and of those that did, 93 per cent provided no contact number on the home page.

On top of that, only half of the websites have a contact form and under 40 per cent give an email address. This has led to a situation where 60 per cent of websites are not compatible across platforms.

Chris Brake, managing director of Johnston Press’ Digital Kitbag service, commented:

Digital opportunities offer huge potential for small firms and so it is shocking to see so few are getting this right. Small businesses 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.

The numbers for small firm interaction with social media paint an even gloomier picture, with 69 per cent having no Twitter account, 70 per cent no Facebook page and 89 per cent no LinkedIn.

There may yet be rich rewards for those businesses that decide to up their game and plunge themselves into the online era while their competitors remain isolated from the same opportunities.

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