24 Nov Technology protects half of East of England firms during Covid-19 crisis
Half (50%) of the East of England’s microbusinesses would cease trading amid lockdown measures if it wasn’t for their ability to use digital services, according to a new report from Lloyds Bank and Be the Business.
The new 2020 Transformation With Tech research examines technology’s influence on business survival among the UK’s smallest firms during the COVID-19 crisis and highlights the digital skills and tech they now want and need for the future. It has found that in the East, almost a quarter (23%) of microbusinesses created an online presence for the first time – as they sought to keep trading through lockdown restrictions.
Of those already online, a third (34%) of small local businesses say they’ve increased their online trade since the beginning of the crisis.
One local firm that’s adapted to help them survive is Essex-based L&L Roofing. Owner Luke has turned to Zoom during lockdown to set up virtual visits to customers’ homes to help reassure them during an unsettling time, and to provide initial quotes for work.
The study also found that on top of helping companies to keep trading, more than a third (35%) of microbusinesses in the East reported cost savings as a result of their adoption of new technologies. One in two (50%) also credit the internet and digital technologies for helping to simplify their businesses.
While more than a quarter (27%) of the East of England’s microbusinesses found the volume of technology required to keep trading stressful, more than a third (36%) had also received support during the crisis to adopt new technologies from initiatives including the Lloyds Bank Academy and WeAreDigital – which provide online digital skills training across the UK.
Matt Hubbard, Lloyds Banking Group’s Ambassador for the East of England, said: “The East of England is well-known for its tech clusters and innovation centres, and tech adoption has been helping businesses in the region to thrive for some time. But the pandemic has shown that digital capabilities are critical to survival, serving as a lifeline to many firms who have been able to continue trading by shifting their operations online.
“Many firms in the East have successfully adapted in the current climate, pivoting their models to cater for new trends and demands. But there’s clearly a significant proportion of small businesses yet to make the shift online and as significant contributors to the region’s prosperity, we urge them to make use of the tools and guidance available.”
Levelling up tech capabilities
Across the UK, the number of businesses prioritising digital investment has doubled over the course of the pandemic. More than four in ten (42%) microbusinesses in the East are now investing in digital systems, technology and skills. Many reported using digital tools and services for the first time, such as virtual meetings (19%), ecommerce (12%), social media (11%) and online financial management (10%) to keep their companies up and running. Nationally, those who were already utilising these online tools pre-pandemic are using them much more (33% virtual meetings, 27% ecommerce, 31% social media and 21% financial planning).
Nationally, at least two-thirds (66%) of those who have started using various digital services say they will continue to do so in the future. The online tools that are most likely to be continued to be used are social media (83%), online banking (83%) and virtual meetings (78%). The back office has also seen a much-needed overhaul – one in ten businesses have started using cloud software and 12% are now using analytics capabilities to better understand their customers.