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Massive shift to online as small firms adapt to the new normal

9 June 2020

One in seven small business owners say they are transitioning towards becoming fully or mainly online enterprises since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK.

A survey conducted by Hitachi Capital Business Finance has found that the proportion of small businesses that are offering services fully online has increased by more than 50% since the period of isolation began - rising from 24% to 38%.

The sectors where small businesses were most set up for online operations before the pandemic struck were retail (43%), IT and telecoms (40%) and media (40%). In the past two months, the sectors where small business owners have been most urgently transitioning their ventures to online platforms have been education (29%), medical (22%) and finance and accounting (21%).

The findings also show that the coronavirus pandemic has widened the tech gap between small businesses - with the gap between the most and least digitally-enabled sectors widening from 33% to 45% in a matter of months. Offline businesses are more than twice as likely as online businesses to have had to close their doors since the pandemic struck the UK (39% Vs 17%).

Gavin Wraith-Carter, managing director at Hitachi Capital Business Finance, said: "In recent years, online and digital capabilities have been seen as desirable goals for many small business owners - for others, a consideration for the future. The shock of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed things overnight. Today, online capabilities are essential, many small businesses need them simply to operate and to stay open for business."

Echoing these findings, website building platform Zyro reports that nearly 200,000 small businesses have launched websites during the COVID-19 lockdown on the platform, more than twice as many as normal.

Leading online providers are reaching out to small firms to help them transition to online businesses. In May, Facebook announced the launch of Facebook Shops, which gives small businesses the tools to create online stores on Facebook and Instagram.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has partnered with Amazon "to help firms operate safely in the new normal". The partnership will provide practical guidance to help firms get back to work safely as non-essential businesses reopen later this month. Amazon will also give 1,000 UK businesses the chance to tour its fulfilment centres to see how it has implemented a range of measures to keep staff safe while continuing to serve its customers.

Written by Rachel Miller.

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