In the not so distant past, small businesses would promote their stores with signs in the shop window or posting ads in the local newspaper. If you’re a small business owner, you might still do this. However, most small businesses have stepped up the way they promote their products and services by using the internet.

Before the internet, standing out as a small business was a huge challenge, with multinational companies monopolising advertising space with their big budgets and flashy campaigns. However, the internet has levelled the playing field a little.

Don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying you have to compete with the big boys on the internet, but it does give you a great platform on which to reach and connect with new and existing customers to build brand awareness and consumer loyalty.

Why does the Internet work so well for small businesses?

The internet is a powerful tool for your small business, opening up a whole new world of opportunities. The internet allows your business to reach further, faster while enabling you to think bigger. The days of the small business purely being local are over, the internet provides a pathway to global markets.

And by “small business”, we really do mean anyone, be it butchers, florists or coffee shops, literally anyone can get online now, and they really should.

Having a presence on the internet improves the chances of your small business surviving in the long-term, which with the year we’ve all had in 2020, has been no easy feat. Ultimately, the internet gives you the opportunity to increase revenue through technology-enabled commerce…

…How? Well people literally ‘carry’ the internet around with them in the shape of smartphones and tablets. Meanwhile, most people have computer access giving them web availability 24/7.

According to a study by Hootsuite, the average web user will spend more than a quarter of their life on the internet. The same study shows that consumers are online an average of 6 hours and 42 minutes each day.

This means that your small business can grab some of that time people are spending on the internet, which leads us nicely into the next reason why the internet works so well for small businesses.

Multiple ways to reach customers

Consumers spend a lot of time on the internet, but they’re not all in one place. Some are visiting websites, some are on social media or some are on review sites or browsing elsewhere. The point we’re making is that the internet allows you to reach customers wherever they are online using different avenues to connect with them.

Pre-internet, the kind of connection and reach small businesses had was very limited. While owners of small firms became savvy at building a strong loyal customer base, reaching new customers was challenging.

Consumer preference and coronavirus

The main reason the internet works so well for small businesses is because it works for consumers. According to a study by EmpathyBroker, 51% of consumers in the UK said they prefer to shop online because it’s convenient.

Gone are the days when shoppers have to nip down to Argos and sift through over a thousand pages of products to find what they wanted! Online is where consumers are, so it makes sense for your small business to be there too.

Another reason why the internet serves small businesses so well is that consumers prefer to buy from independent companies. A study by Mastercard shows that 66% of Brits prefer to buy from small businesses.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the desire to buy from small businesses has surged. The Mastercard study shows that 49% of people have purchased from a small business to help them ‘bounce back.’ Interestingly, 27% said they’d re-established or formed a new relationship with a small business.

Meanwhile, 20% said that the reason they chose to shop with a small business is because they trusted recommendations made by friends or family and a whopping 65% said they had found a new appreciation for small businesses.

The profile and value of the small business has certainly risen in 2020, with the evidence pointing to an increase in online shopping with smaller firms.

Internet for product development and research

The internet has also proven to be a huge resource for research and product development among small businesses. It allows you to research competitors and gather information for new product development.

Meanwhile, the internet has been revolutionary in helping small businesses to operate more efficiently, with powerful tools and apps that help to streamline tedious admin tasks, manage finances and automate marketing activity, among other things.

The internet is also a great way to manage suppliers and increase business to business opportunities.

Small business revolution

It’s often said that small business is the backbone of the British economy and in 2020, a year that has been hugely challenging for all, independent stores have stood tall to serve their communities.

The internet has brought small business and consumer back together, sparking a renaissance and a new found appreciation for one another. The web has kept many small businesses open when 20 or 30 years ago they would have gone out of business if faced with lengthy closures.

The value of the internet to small businesses, especially in 2020, is priceless. It has helped business and customer stay connected, which will prove invaluable in the months to come and is the reason why the internet works for small firms.

We’ll leave you with this… According to Growth Intelligence, following the first UK lockdown, between March and July 85,000 small businesses launched an online store – the highest ever recorded over a four-month period.

Are you one of them? Do you want to be?

This might come as a surprise to you, but many consumers were once reluctant to buy online. Security fears and the thought of entering credit card details on a payment page scared many. However, online buying has surged over the last decade even more so amid the coronavirus pandemic and it’s driven by several factors.

Improvements in online security have increased consumer confidence in internet buying, paving the way for a shopping boom the likes of which have never been seen before. According to a study by Barclays, online spending in November 2020 alone grew by 23.0%, rising from 10.5% in October.

Meanwhile, across the year, online grocery shopping saw a whopping 94.7% increase, driven by the fact that many consumers were forced to shop online during Britain’s first lockdown. While the coronavirus has undoubtedly sparked a surge in online buying, the upward trend started long before we were all beset by the virus, and it’s not just the big stores taking advantage of it.

You probably use take-away services now using an app without even thinking about it. There was a time when you had to walk to your local chippy to place an order, but many now allow you to order online and pick up when it’s ready.

Services have grown around this burgeoning business to make it easy for these sorts of outlets to get online (did somebody say Just Eat?), but others, such as butchers, delicatessens and other artisan stores are also taking the leap by themselves.

Some are investing in websites which enable their customers to order online then pick up, while others, maybe dipping their toes in the digital river, are instead asking people to contact them via social media.

Social media is particularly attractive to even smaller businesses because it’s free and everywhere. It opens communication between the store owner and customer, but that can also be its downfall.

Managing stock and taking orders can be challenging, and after a full day at work do you really want to be dealing with customers while you’re trying to relax watching Bake Off?

Whichever way they choose to take orders and communicate updates, this is a very different world to just a few years ago.

While take-up has been slow for a few years, the Covid-19 pandemic and people’s fear of being in crowded shops has made it less of a “nice to have” service available to a few customers and more a “must-have” to keep trading.

What’s driving consumers to buy online?

A 40-page report published by Anglo-Dutch multinational professional services network, KPMG, identified 12 factors that have helped to drive online shopping. KPMG’s report focuses on several countries and covers a range of different generational groups from Baby Boomers to Gen X and Millennials.

According to the report, the 12 top reasons consumers gave for buying online, include:

#1 – 24-hour access

The #1 reason why more people buy online is that it gives them the ability to shop 24/7. More than half (58%) of consumers said that all hours access made shopping far more convenient.

#2 – Ability to compare prices

Gone are the days when consumers would have to go trawling around stores comparing prices for one or two items before ending up back at the first shop they went to because they had the items at the lowest price… we’ve all been there.

The internet enables shoppers to have multiple tabs open for several stores so that they can compare prices and get the best deal. Alternatively, many shoppers will use price comparison websites for pretty much anything, to find the lowest prices.

According to the KPMG report, 54% of consumers shop online because of the ability to compare prices.

#3 – Online sales and better prices

46% of shoppers in the KPMG report said they buy online because they’re convinced they will get items for better prices or a great deal from a sale – they might be on to something too! According to The Online Shopping Expert, websites tend to offer more exclusive sales and discounts than brick-and-mortar stores.

It’s often the case that online shoppers can find discounts on items that were not discounted in store, adding an extra incentive to buy online.

#4 – Save time

Modern life seems to run at a 100 miles an hour and for many shoppers, the idea of trudging around stores is not the best use of their time. Online shopping makes purchasing items quicker and easier than ever, driven by many companies being able to offer delivery within 24 hours or less.

40% of consumers from the KPMG report said that this was their main reason for shopping online.

#5 – Convenience of not going to shops

39% of consumers from the KPMG report said that they shop online because it means they don’t have to go to the shops. A proportion of people avoiding the stores are those with physical disabilities, who said that having items delivered direct to their door helps them to avoid the hassle of going to the shops.

Who doesn’t enjoy shopping from the comfort of their own home?

#6 – Greater variety and selection

Brick and mortar stores can only stock and display so much, which limits the amount of choice available to consumers when shopping in-store. Let’s take shoe shopping in-person…

…How many times do you think a consumer has found a pair of shoes they like, in a colour they love only for the shop assistant to ‘go in the back’ and return saying ‘sorry, we don’t have that shoe in your size or that colour?’ The answer is probably a lot.

Shopping online gives consumers a whole world of choices, which is why 29% of people from KPMG’s report prefer to shop online.

#7 – Free shipping offers

Free shipping is offered by most retailers, either as standard, or if consumers spend a certain amount. Getting items delivered for free was an incentive for 29% of shoppers from the KPMG report, who said that they save on fuel or public transport travel expenses.

#8 – Convenience of everything in one place

Rather than trudging from store to store, online shopping allows consumers to access almost every store in the world at the click of a button from the comfort of their own home. 27% of consumers in KPMG’s report said that the convenience of having everything in one place makes shopping ‘less stressful.’

#9 – To locate hard to find items

If a consumer is after something specific, trying to hunt it down on a ‘shop crawl’ can be time consuming and will likely lead to disappointment. Plus, if an item is quite niche or rare, the chances of finding it in-store are slim to none.

After all, shopping in-person is geographically limited to the region in which a consumer lives, which limits the amount of stores one can visit to find the item they want.

Cue the online search engine! Consumers can simply type in a description of what they’re looking for and locate it almost instantly anywhere in the world. 20% of consumers from KPMG’s report said that this is their main motivation for buying online.

#10 – To avoid crowds

Enochlophobia is the fear of crowds and one of many social anxiety disorders, which affect 8.2 million Brits. It’s likely that many of these people avoid brick and mortar stores for this reason. However, most shoppers want to avoid crowds because of the great British tradition of queuing.

Plus, when a sale event is on – typically Black Friday – shoppers can get pretty rowdy and the whole in-person shopping experience can become a bit of a nightmare. That’s why 15% of consumers from KPMG’s report prefer to shop online.

#11 – Products not sold in city/country

There are some products that just cannot be bought by consumers in their own city or country. Going out of city or out of country to get the item they want is hardly practical and would be pretty expensive.

That’s why 15% of consumers from KPMG’s report head online to source products from other regions of the UK or another country. The internet makes it possible for consumers to order from faraway places like China, Australia, New Zealand and more, getting items delivered right to their front door.

#12 – To avoid checkout lines

Ah yes, the great British tradition of queuing, an ancient pastime that many Brits no longer share a passion for and who can blame them? What parent wants to queue while the kids are screaming or wait in line with their partner because they got the hump that you found what you were looking for and they didn’t? Not many.

Then there are those people that seem to buy half the store, or monopolise the store assistant’s time and you end up in the queue behind them… ahh.

Not a problem with online shopping, gone is the queuing system. When you click that checkout button, there’s no virtual line in your way. Click, pay and be on your way. It’s as simple as that.

In addition

Another driving factor for online shopping, not mentioned by the KPMG report, but we think plays a huge part in a decision to shop online is the ability to research. Interestingly, according to research carried out by Giraffe Insights, UK mums are highly likely to research products before committing to a purchase.

In fact, 81% of mums are said to research items on a weekly basis, according to Giraffe Insights.

2020 has forced many into online shopping

KPMG’s report is pretty comprehensive in what drives consumers to shop online, but it was published before the coronavirus struck the world. The pandemic has resulted in an online shopping boom because, with many brick and mortar stores forced to close during lockdown periods, consumers have had no choice but to shop online.

According to research by Internet Retailing, online shopping grew by a staggering 129% across the UK within one-month of the March lockdown being announced. However, with the rise in online shopping, comes greater expectations among consumers.

Butchers, grocers, florists, in fact all types of shop owner will now have to be more ready than ever with improved tactics, messaging and incentives to increase online conversion rates. Some retailers will have to work harder than others because across some sectors, there’s still a reluctance among consumers to buy online, but as we’ve seen, even the most traditional of shop will eventually succumb to it.

Amid the coronavirus, online shopping is expected to see continued growth in the months and years to come as consumers across all generations become more accustomed to the convenience of internet buying.

Expect the next series of Open All Hours to feature Granville taking orders on his iPhone 11.

It can be easy to ignore Facebook as a marketing tool and simply see it as a place to chat with friends, argue about people's bad parking and share videos of people falling over in the snow.

However, over the past few years, there has been a shift in how people communicate using social media, and Facebook has kind of "grown-up" a bit.

The user demographic has changed, and the greatest user share is now by those aged 25-34, all the youngsters have jumped ship to TikTok.

This is an important age bracket because these are people settling down, buying houses, having kids and hopefully, considering where they buy their goods from.

They're also a tech-savvy bunch.

They've grown up with technology. They don't remember a world where they didn't have a phone that could also take pictures, and most of them will be used to ordering online.

So how can you use this to your advantage?

Staying local

The past year has been anything but normal. Restrictions have impeded on our day to day life affecting pretty much everyone.

However, social media has helped to bring communities together, offer a helping hand and step in when family can't be there and enhanced the need to stay "local".

Whereas many out of town shopping centres have been hit hard by the restrictions bought about by Covid-19 and lockdown, many smaller towns and villages have seen a boost.

People seem to be making more of their local amenities and shopping nearby.

It's no surprise, really. Travel restrictions and the general fear of the virus has meant people have had to reconsider what's convenient and what's essential in their life.

But, these restrictions have also meant shops have had to adapt.

In the past, it would be hard to justify a grocer having anything as techie as a website; in many cases, they haven't even got a till you need to plug in.

But now, you go and buy a kilo of apples, and they ask if you're paying by cash or card, proud of the shiny new Square terminal they have installed.

And in some cases, a website has become essential.

Click and collect – the new normal

While the virus is still around us, adaptation in the way people buy has meant things that were in the realm of large businesses only have suddenly become commonplace.

Customers can't browse around a shop as easily now, so websites allow them to view products, contact the store and then place their order online.

They can then elect to have those products delivered, or arrange a time to pick up.

But how do you tell people?

Finally, to the point of this – selling stuff!

The first thing to think about is where you are. I know, sounds crazy, but it's important to check out what's around you and make some enquiries.

If you're new to Facebook, this might be a scary new world, but if you've had an account for a while, dip in and try to find local discussion groups.

How Facebook groups work

A Facebook group is essentially a forum where people chat, moan, praise and generally discuss things that are pertinent to that group.

The important thing here is the subject matter. If you're in a group dedicated to the Ford Focus, you won't get much help and will probably be kicked out if you ask people how to change the head gasket on a Vauxhall Nova.

There is likely to be a group around your local area, focussed on local issues.

Type your local area name in the search box and see what you find.

Here's what I get if I type "Penkridge" in:

The first one there, "Penkridge Matters" looks pretty busy – 7,000 members and 30 posts a day.

But is it any good for you to advertise your business?

Click on it and check the rules:

That's a "no" then, but still, it's worth joining because even though straight advertising isn't allowed, you might find conversations happening that you can take part in.

For example, if some Scrooge type fella decides to be embued with Christmas spirit at the last minute and buy a turkey, he might ask in the group. If you're a butcher just closing up for the day, you could come to the rescue!

You helped someone, you didn't overtly advertise, but people will know about you.

Advertising is often not allowed – that usually doesn't matter

You'll find that in most cases they don't want people posting adverts – this is normal.

People are fed up of having adverts thrust in their faces every day, so it's no surprise that group admins try to keep a lid on it, but it doesn't mean you can't take part.

You see, the whole point of social media is being social, and if you can help people without resorting to advertising, you'll get known anyway.

The benefit of this is you're reaching people at the time they need it, and that's about the best type of advertising available.

Be respectful, be kind, be professional

Of course, some of these groups can be a hotbed of local intrigue and scandal.

My advice? Stay out of it.

It can often be very tempting to get involved in a local issue and want to put your point across, after all, you live here too, but it's incredible the damage it can do to you and your business.

I'm minded of a story of a local decorator who had a fairly low profile in a village and was the first to be called when someone needed a room painting.

Then he discovered Facebook and the apparent availability of free speech.

Over a week or two, he made his point very clear on his opinions of political party affiliation, immigration, schooling and Brexit.

Suddenly, he lost customers.

Social media magnifies what you say. A throwaway comment in a pub may be forgotten quickly, but on Facebook, it's there for all to see for a long time.

Don't be tempted – step away from the argument and remember the bigger goal.

When used correctly, you can utilise Facebook to help your business grow and thrive, especially during times like these.