Login >
0191 313 0300


Challenges and opportunity

Opening or expanding online has been a lifeline for small businesses over the last 18 months. During the pandemic, more than 60% of small business revenue has come from ecommerce, driving a net increase of 11% in overall SME sales. 

Looking ahead, the online trend looks set to accelerate as SMEs capitalise on the opportunities that ecommerce brings. 

When Opayo and our partners Discover® Global Network spoke to the decision-makers behind 160 small UK businesses*, 81% said they believed that businesses will have to sell online to survive in the future. At the same time, the number of SMEs with a physical store or customer-facing business premises is predicted to drop by 1%. 

Lucy Hull, of Whitley Bay’s eclectic gift store, For The Love Of The North, is one of the owners reducing her physical business presence and growing online: 

“At the start of the pandemic we had two shops, one in Corbridge and one in Spanish City. We’ve closed the one in Corbridge – partly because the reach of the website has increased so much. We’re going to focus on one shop and put more time into the website and into product.”

What’s exciting is that going online is more than a lifeline. It can be very lucrative. So, how do you ensure that your business can meet the challenges – and maximise the potential – of the ongoing growth in ecommerce?


Attracting and Retaining Loyal Customers

One of the biggest ecommerce challenges facing small businesses is that competition makes it hard to be competitive on price. This makes it ever-more important to attract and retain loyal customers. 

Many small businesses are benefitting from a UK-wide surge in local feeling, with customers actively looking to support independent, regional traders. SMEs are also responding to competitive pricing by diversifying and dramatically increasing their focus on the customer experience. This includes improving site navigation, optimising the checkout process, and introducing new, online innovations, from videos to click and collect.

Sami Lovett, founder of the bespoke product creation business, Just Lovett Design, says diversifying online kept her business going. 

“If you’d asked me a couple of years ago if I would be doing virtual events online, I would have said no. But doing it and coming up with something different has been a unique selling point. It’s kept me afloat.” 


Adopting Social Media

Alongside these activities, small businesses are adopting social media as a vital tool to promote their products and services and to engage with customers. 77% are now selling on social media channels, with 86% saying that they agree, or strongly agree, that this allows them to spread the word about their businesses more effectively than simple word of mouth. 

Isaac Stott, Brand and Marketing Director of Lincolnshire-based Seven Districts Coffee, says that through the pandemic, their online audience grew right across the UK. Their company built many of those connections via social media. 

“We are taking a lot of time and effort over how we communicate and draw people in: keeping customers in the loop online, sharing interesting things, communicating constantly.” 


Prioritising Data Security

Reaching out to customers matters. So does protecting them from fraud. Data security is another major concern for small businesses. With cybercrime on the rise, it’s critical to keep financial transactions safe and customer information secure. 

At Opayo, security is at the heart of everything we do. We invest in industry-leading fraud-prevention services to keep our customers protected and to give you the tools, resources, and advice to ensure that you remain PCI compliant.

So, steps to online success are security, ensuring that your business is set up to meet a surge in demand and using simple-but-effective ways to extend your reach. 

With the vast majority of small businesses expecting to see growth in the next 12 months, an encouraging 74% are feeling positive about the future. As John Gaunt, Joint Managing Directing of Sunny Bank Mills, in Leeds, says: 

“There’s a real sense of optimism and opportunity as we come out of the pandemic. People are excited.” 

At Opayo, we’re here to help small businesses open up today and tomorrow. If you want more support and advice about maximising your online sales, data security, or taking payments from customers, just get in touch. 

*Based on research with 160 decision makers in small online UK businesses across various sectors, commissioned by Opayo in partnership with Discover® Global Network. 

Keep reading

At Opayo, we’re here to help small businesses open up, today and tomorrow. All these findings are available to read in full, here. And, in October we’ll be publishing another report, looking closely at how things have changed since March. Stay tuned!

Download the report

We spoke to the following business owners from each region:



More information


Rise of the Online Local

Across the country, 74% of the UK’s small business owners say they’re feeling positive about the future. Does their experience reflect yours? What are the factors behind the upbeat mood? Find out what independent retailers like you have to say.  

Find out more

Optimism Heatmap

We support small businesses to open up, today and tomorrow. So we set out to ask local traders how they felt at the start of the year, and how they’re feeling now. Have a look at our blog and heatmaps to learn more.

Find out more