Lloyd’s research highlights lack of online investment by UK SME’s.

Ecommerce via mobileThere are many things that the UK are well known leaders at. In sport, our Premier League is the best footballing export in the world with over 4.7 billion viewers annually. In business, the UK attracts 2.5 times greater foreign investment than that of Germany and France combined whilst in Education, Cambridge University has been named the best University in the world having toppled it’s great adversary Harvard from the top spot. Something you may not be aware of is the UK now beats the rest of the developed world  in something quite different – Internet buying and selling. Yep, that’s right, Britain is officially the world leader in e-commerce. In fact, a whopping 8% of the UK’s GDP is now accounted for by the digital economy. This makes the UK one of the strongest online economies with current estimates forecasting a rise to over 12% by 2016.

Just in case you needed any further convincing of our online prowess, during Boxing Day 2013 British internet users made 129m visits to retail websites. That’s the biggest shopping day on record and up 15% on 2012. That’s roughly 2 website visits for every Man, Woman and Child living in the UK in one day.  Over half of the visits during this boxing day shopping extravaganza were made via a mobile phone.

So, with this in mind I was pretty surprised to read an excellent piece of research published by Lloyd’s bank. The research reviewed the current online capabilities of nearly 2000 of their UK based business customers. This research offered intriguing insights into the current digital maturity of Britain’s businesses especially for Digital Marketers like me.

The research claims, among other things, that of the 1,988 companies which took part in the research 50% had no website. Amazingly, of the half that did have a website only a third are using it for anything more advanced than providing information like an online brochure.

Now, you would think given the impressive UK figures I quoted earlier that the majority of UK companies would be digitally savvy with a killer website and twitter account to boot but it seems ‘No’. Indeed, in 39% of cases the main barrier to implementing a greater online presence was a lack of interest in doing more online or an unfortunate belief that doing more online was irrelevant to them.

At the other end of the scale digitally mature SME’s and charities say they are already realizing the benefits of digital which are primarily a wider reach and exposure across the UK. To add to this, 76% of digitally mature respondents expressed confidence in their future prospects as opposed to a far more negative outlook from the less digitally mature.

My experience through friends, associates and clients with or without an online presence is quite varied. Despite my chosen line of work I actually admire businesses who are currently surviving through ‘word of mouth’  alone. After all, there is no better endorsement than a personal recommendation that results in a new client.This type of recommendation says a lot about the quality of a service or a product. However, I say , with a great big flashing warning sign – DON’T REST ON YOUR LAURELS, Generation Y  (born between ’81 and ’00) are coming up the ranks and all they know is digital. A large proportion of Generation X are pretty digital savvy too and you can bet your bottom dollar that a high number of your closest competitors are investing in their online visibility for this very reason. If you don’t believe me just enter your service or product into a local search engine and see who appears. These names do not appear by luck.

Every business needs a long term strategy and these days a digital marketing plan should be part of your over-arching business plan. If it isn’t and the ‘word of mouth’ business does dry up you may well find yourself 1 to 2 years behind your competition and in today’s competitive world that could spell disaster.

In an interesting article by Booze & Co it was suggested that Britain’s SME’s could unlock an additional £18.8bn of incremental revenue by optimizing their use of digital technologies. Imagine that – The UK already leads the way, we’d be unstoppable!

The Sunday Times recently ran an article about a young female butcher from Newcastle who had set up her own website and blog. It was this entrepreneurial online vision that led her sales to increase by 40%. That’s the kind of impact an online presence can have on a business, even a business which you wouldn’t necessarily expect to benefit. Surely it’s better to turn down prospective clients than risk a downturn in word of mouth referrals?

I’m going to leave the last word to a well published and highly respected business strategist by the name of Michael Porter who back in 2001 famously said of internet technology..

” The key question is not whether to deploy internet technology…companies have no choice… but how to deploy it”

For those of you who have yet to deploy it – Beware!

Paul Rees is the Director of Digital Marketing at Red Kite Digital Ltd, Cardiff, UK

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