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Where’s the happiest place to be a small business owner in the UK? 

What are the best places in the UK to be a small business owner today? Which regions are feeling the most positive about the future?

We know that the last 12 months have transformed life for local businesses up and down the country. Here at Opayo, we’ve seen – at firsthand – the energy and resolve with which smaller retailers have adapted to the challenges of the pandemic. 

One trend in particular highlights their creativity and resilience: The Rise of the Online Local. This trend is seeing businesses rooted in local communities taking their products and services online. 

Appreciation for local providers has been steadily increasing in recent years. That shift has been amplified by the pandemic, which brought the importance of community into sharp focus. This ‘rediscovery’ of independent stores is building consumer loyalties that have the potential to last long term. 

The Rise of the Online Local merges that regional focus with the ease and convenience of online shopping. 

Our goal is to support small businesses to open up, today and tomorrow. So, we wanted to know how this online expansion has affected indy retailers over the last year. How are local traders feeling right now? How optimistic are they about the months ahead? 

After speaking to 160 small online business owners from across the UK, we used their answers to create two intriguing and enlightening happiness heat maps. The first shows how positive online retailers are feeling today. The second shows how positive they’re feeling about the future. 

Read on to discover the UK’s happiest hotspots for small business owners! 


Increased online spending

Across the UK, 62% of indy retailers say that their online revenue has increased over the last year. Existing online customers have been spending more. Previously offline customers have transitioned online. Small businesses have also gained new customers. 

While the restrictions of lockdown have been a key driver for people to do more shopping online, it may be that the uptick for small businesses has been prompted by the surge in community feeling. 

A massive 80% of our respondents say that being seen as a local business has become increasingly important in the last year. Almost as many – 74% – say that their communities have stepped up to help local businesses during the pandemic. 

The best news is that the overall mood amongst the UK’s indy retailers is upbeat. Top of the list of the regions who were most positive about the situation today was Scotland, with 73% of respondents saying they felt either fairly, or very, positive. This was closely followed by businesses based in North West England (71%) and the East Midlands (69%). 


Reasons for optimism

These businesses tend to report that their revenues have increased. They’ve often found selling online easier than they’d expected and their online sales have provided a lifeline during the long months of lockdown. 

Many also say that adapting to the demands of the previous 12 months has helped to make them more nimble and more resilient, and that they’ve dramatically increased their focus on the customer experience. 


A political factor?

It’s possible that these regions were also boosted by the political landscape. The areas reporting the greatest levels of positive feeling about the current situation were all in Scotland and England. 

Both the Scottish and the English governments provided roadmaps out of lockdown that gave dates for when – all being equal - different sectors of the economy would be able to fully re-open. The Welsh and Northern Irish roadmaps were rolled out with greater caution. This may have impacted business optimism, as it meant that there was less opportunity for local businesses in Wales and Northern Ireland to plan ahead during the early months of 2021. 

When it comes to looking ahead, the levels of positivity in both regions rise substantially, in Wales by 22% and in Northern Ireland by 34%. But the area outstripping everywhere else in its sunny outlook is Yorkshire and the Humber. Here, an incredible 100% of respondents say they feel fairly or very optimistic about tomorrow. 


A happy future

Respondents in Yorkshire and the Humber say that they are expecting their revenue to increase in the months ahead. They have the capacity to scale up quickly if sales increase. And they say that here too – fully in line with the unstoppable Rise of the Online Local – it’s become increasingly important for them to be seen as local businesses. 

It’s clear that, despite the turmoil of the last year, the UK’s amazing independent retailers are looking ahead to better times. Here’s to the summer of ’21 – and beyond! 

*Based on research with 160 small online UK businesses, commissioned by Opayo in partnership with Discover Global Network.

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