News & Insight

Most small businesses don't sell online

Jack Stratten

The government's Small Business Survey reveals fascinating insights into what SMEs are doing online

In spite of the relentless growth of ecommerce, the vast majority of small businesses in the UK still don’t sell their goods or services online.

According to the government’s recently released Small Business Survey 2015, some 69% of SMEs are ignoring the ever-growing demand for ecommerce.

Of the 31% that do sell online, only 15% sell through their own website

Only 15% of SMEs sell goods and services through their own website. The rest of the 31% that sell online do so through third-party sites or social media.

These stats are surprising but also reveal big opportunities. Many small firms could boost their businesses by taking advantage of online selling, and ecommerce experts all over the UK have a potentially huge market of small businesses to support.

83% of small businesses are ‘digitally engaged’

This survey defines 'digitally engaged' as a business that conducts some sort of online activity – either through its own website, a third-party site or a social media account. By this definition, 83% of UK SMEs are digitally engaged.

Within these headline stats, there are a few key points to make. Firstly, 45% of SMEs don’t use social media – which, given the ease of setting up a social media account, and the potential benefits of doing so, is alarming. Interestingly, in 2014 47% of SMEs used social media, so the percentage has actually dropped at a time when social activity in the wider population is growing exponentially.

The survey also reveals that nearly a quarter of UK SMEs still don’t have a website of any kind. Evidently it’s still seen by some as a non-essential expense, despite the fact that most experts would suggest it’s both essential and affordable.

Having a digital presence and selling online is easy – and essential

Evidently, lots of British businesses are still not prioritising online activity, while others are ignoring it completely. And it’s reasonable to assume that this comes down to two simple reasons: it’s deemed too expensive, or of little value to the business.

Now, for reasons well-known to most of us, websites, social media accounts and the ability sell online are all essential tools for any business. And that’s businesses of every size and shape, in every industry. From plumbers using MyBuilder.com to cake-makers using Instagram, any business can benefit in all kinds of ways. The key is working out what type of online activity suits your business, and therefore what you need to prioritise.

And it needn’t be expensive. In some cases, it’s completely free – a simple case of setting up a Facebook page to build a local community of followers.

So there’s no excuse not to get started. Check out our other guides on digital marketing to get started, or visit Do It Digital – a not-for-profit organisation set up specifically to help small businesses to get online and grow.