The explosion of ecommerce in the UK across the last year has been fuelled largely by necessity, with physical stores closed and people confined to their homes for large periods of time. But, encouragingly for businesses who pivoted to online during the pandemic, consumer demand for shopping via digital channels continues to be strong.
In April 2021, the Office for National Statistics estimated that online transactions constituted 30% of all retail sales in the UK. This is 31.9% up on the same month in 2020. At the heart of the Government’s ‘build back better’ strategy is its ‘levelling up’ agenda – a mantra to inspire growth in all corners of the country, in particular in areas outside of London and the South East. And when it comes to web-based micro-businesses, our data shows that ‘levelling up’ is already well underway.
GoDaddy has unique insight into the micro-business community, which Government figures show make up 96% of the registered companies in the UK, 33% of the workforce and 21% of overall turnover. In fact, our 2021 State of the Nation study, which analyses how many new micro-businesses have been formed during the pandemic, shows that there has been 21% growth in new ventures overall compared to the previous year. Even more encouragingly, the most sizeable expansions were all in northern parts of the UK.
The area with the biggest growth was the Northwest Gateway – an area that spans from Stafford and Telford in the Midlands to Chester in the North [65% growth]. Other areas where we’ve seen a significant increase include the Liverpool-Manchester corridor [56.8% growth], East Lancashire [36.4%], Yorkshire West & North [31%], and the Scottish Highlands & Islands [31%].
The figures are positive, but micro-businesses are also more than just statistics. They are people’s hopes, dreams and livelihoods. Although we class them in the ‘small’ business bracket, their significance in the lives of their founders is anything but.
Take Andy Walker, founder of Gingerbread Bakery in Market Drayton, Shropshire. Despite working for 25 years as a software developer, Andy did not let the pandemic stand in the way of his ambitions to become an entrepreneur. In 2020, Andy decided that the time was right to take on a new challenge and set up his bakery delivery service. With GoDaddy’s help, he created an online store and he hasn’t looked back.
The country is full of stories just like Andy’s. I’ve even seen it in my own local community around Cambridge, where start-up businesses have taken over vacant units, and people have rallied to champion independent retailers in the city.
When we think about the economy at a macro-level, we often talk about the stock market and how big household name brands are faring, but scratch beneath the surface and there are millions of micro-businesses already propelling the recovery, all across the country.
Fulfilling ‘levelling up’ is a journey and, for micro-businesses, the process has already begun. Looking to the future, with many consumers having a newfound preference for small, local businesses who sell online, there are many reasons to be optimistic.
Ben Law, Head of UK and Ireland, GoDaddy