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As retail reopens, study shows that consumers and SMEs are ready for a more blended on- and offline experience

SMEs: predicting a bumper peak season

More than a third of Brits have tried a local small restaurant or shop for the first time by ordering online during the Coronavirus lockdowns. And with 71% of small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) planning to continue selling products online after the end of lockdown, changing consumer habits have opened new revenue streams – both during the pandemic and into the future – for small businesses in the UK. 

So finds new research by Public First on behalf of Internet Association (IA), out today. As non-essential retail  opens its doors, the findings – which include new public opinion research and a survey of 250 SMEs in the wholesale, retail and food sectors – show how shopping behaviours have changed during the pandemic and will continue after lockdown eases, as well as highlighting the vital role the internet has played in helping SMEs continue selling products throughout the pandemic.

The extent to which the internet has given SMEs the opportunity to continue selling products throughout the pandemic is clear – with 30% offering a delivery function for the first time and 20% offering online sales for the first time in order to continue being able to earn revenue while their shops were shut.

The new research of SMEs also showed that 61% of SMEs surveyed said their business would not have been able to survive without using the internet to sell products during the lockdown, while 20% set up a social media page for the first time, helping firms expand their reach while physical shops had to be closed. A quarter (25%) also allowed staff to work from home for the first time.

The figures also highlight how the public used the internet to try local small shops and restaurants for the first time during the pandemic – as well as detailing the changing behaviour between online and in person shopping that will remain now the lockdown has eased further.

According to the research, nearly half of the public (48%) ordered food or drinks online from local restaurants during coronavirus lockdowns, while 36% tried a local shop or food outlet for the first time by ordering online during the pandemic, with three quarters (76%) now planning on visiting the outlet physically for the first time once restrictions are eased.

The study also shows that more people now plan on taking a blended approach to their shopping habits from 12 April, with 29% now saying they will shop half online, half in person (up from 23% saying the same of their habits before the coronavirus pandemic.

This blended approach from consumers is also expected by SMEs. When asked about their pre-pandemic sales, 17% said they had a mixture of online and in-store sales. However, a quarter (25%) now expect to have a mixture of online and in-store sales once retail reopens next week. 

An IA spokesperson comments: “This new research shows how the internet has played a vital role during the lockdowns over the last 12 months. Importantly, it also shows how the internet can help drive the UK recovery forward. The way people work, shop, and do business may have changed for good – it is clear that the internet sector can help ensure that those changes boost the UK economy, communities, and wider society.

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