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Lockdown on the high street: The effects of Covid-19 on small businesses

by Faye Daffarn | 12.01.2021

While walking down my local High Street this morning, some 14 hours after the government announced National Lockdown #2, I wondered what this route would look like six months from now.  Almost every business has suffered, from big department stores to takeaways to shoe repairers. But it’s remarkable to see how many of those small businesses have not only survived, but begun to thrive through the last year, from managing to pivot their business to trade and connect with their customers in new ways.

The effects of Covid-19 could cost SMEs £69bn according to new figures from Simply Business, with an estimated 230,000 already forced to permanently stop trading.

And now as we enter a second national lockdown, 1/5 of those respondents say they won’t survive. 

But despite these challenges, many are embracing new technologies and adapting, with 47% of those surveyed using messaging apps, a further 33% investing more in Social Media, 36% in contactless trading, and 25% in online delivery.

Increasing the use of digital advertising is an accessible and cost effective way for SMEs to look beyond the virus and gain even greater control this year, and while a recent report by the IAB shows that the uptake of digital is high and perception is positive amongst SMEs, there are many opportunities for greater use of online channels from video-on-demand to podcasts, search and influencers.  Now is the time to start thinking outside the box; to forge a sense of community, and work with like-minded brands and influencers to bring added value to customers.  The IAB have recently created a “powering up tool” to help the UK’s small businesses unlock the value of digital advertising.  It’s great resource and well worth a look.

With social distancing meaning reduced footfall to bricks and mortar, digital revenue will become ever more important as the more robust source, especially as we continue to move towards a contact-free economy and see the continued sharp increase in e-commerce and automation.

During the last lockdown we saw the curve of digital transformation for many SMEs, this lockdown digital tools and analytics will play even more important roles to close the loop on that investment.

Speaking to friends who have businesses on that high street, some have enjoyed a first foray into digital advertising and are finding their way through Google My Business, reviews and Instagram Stories, and some are investing in their agencies to do it for them.  Whatever their level, I can only applaud their determined resolution to not go under, to innovate, to continue to dress windows to remind us of what their websites might offer, to stay open for new click and collect ways of trading and to keep the high street going.  We salute you SMEs.