More than two thirds of people surveyed in Wales are keen to support small businesses this Christmas, as they worry their local shops could go bust, according to new research conducted by BT.
The poll of 2,000 UK consumers found that 68 per cent of people in Wales (58% UK) agree they are making a conscious effort to help small businesses more because of the severe impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on trading over the past year.
The plight of local shops appears to be weighing heavily on the public conscience, as four out of five people in Wales (80%) fear their local high street won’t survive the pandemic.
The poll found also that 78 per cent of people in Wales (66% UK) are increasingly worried about the impact on their community if they lose local shops, and 71 per cent (60% UK) agreeing that their community depends on local businesses. Coupled with the recent collapse of major retail chains, it’s clear the public are concerned about the future of their local high-street.
The affection the public holds for small businesses is strongly reflected in the survey results, with 60 per cent of respondents in Wales (48% UK) saying that small businesses play a key role in supporting local people; 51 per cent (45% UK) recognising the importance of small businesses in sustaining the economy; and 49 per cent (42% UK) pledging that small businesses provide vital employment.
Fears of contracting Covid-19 appear to remain following the most recent lockdowns across the UK, with 57 per cent of people in Wales (51% UK) stating the pandemic has made them reluctant to visit shops. This reinforces the need for small businesses to have a strong online presence to help them survive the disruption of the pandemic.
Jon Pollock, BT director for corporate and public sector, said:
“Small businesses have undoubtedly been among the hardest hit by the pandemic, with national and local lockdowns severely impacting their ability to trade.
“It’s really heartening to see that communities across Wales are coming out in force to support their local high street this Christmas, as these firms rely heavily on the festive period to generate the lion’s share of their profits.
“The fact that consumers want to engage with small businesses, particularly online, but sometimes face barriers in doing so, means that it's absolutely vital for them to adapt by moving online or risk being left behind. That’s why we launched our Small Business Support Scheme to boost the connectivity, cashflow and confidence of small businesses through faster broadband, digital payments and digital skills, among other forms of assistance.”
In addition, the survey has also revealed that small businesses are facing increasing competition from bigger online retailers who are able to offer lower prices and faster delivery. According to the survey, top reasons holding people back from supporting small businesses include; the price compared with other retailers, with 34 per cent of people in Wales (32% UK) citing it as a barrier; a limited product selection, with more than a quarter of people in Wales saying it was a concern (22% UK); while no website presence was cited as a key concern by 21 per cent of respondents in Wales (16% UK). Other concerns include slow delivery, a lack of social media presence and data security issues.
BT’s Small Business Support Scheme consists of a series of measures to help boost the connectivity, cashflow and confidence of small businesses and help them get poised for growth. Helping small businesses to boost their digital skills is a central part of the scheme, with BT pledging to help one million small businesses to boost their digital skills over the next five years through BT’s Skills for Tomorrow programme. Alongside this, a dedicated mentoring programme for small businesses via Digital Boost will launch early next year, giving small businesses free access to BT’s expertise in strategy, marketing, and sales. Next year will also see the launch of a new digital marketing hub from BT to help small businesses to better promote their business online. Other forms of support on offer via the scheme and which are available now include: a bursary scheme for start-ups; a new digital payments solution; and a wellbeing toolkit for small businesses.