Research unveiled by Johnston Press and BuzzBoard highlights a vast gulf between the way consumers engage with products and services online and on mobile and the information small- and medium-sized business provide on these channels.

While 66% of consumers use the Internet to discover information about goods and services, and 75% shop online, research shows a huge proportion of small businesses are restricting revenue by failing to maximise their full online potential, let alone accommodate the massive transition from online to mobile. 

With 30% of online orders for Black Friday and 22% of online orders on Cyber Monday made on a mobile device, the study shows that a staggering 71% of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the United Kingdom remain incapable of handling mobile shoppers.  

The study, commissioned by Johnston Press’ digital marketing service for SMEs, Digital Kitbag, carried out by BuzzBoard, analysed seven key “digital readiness” indicators across 960,350 SMEs in the U.K. in September 2014, looked at factors including Web site and search engine readiness, online marketing, and multi-screen compatibility. For each indicator, the majority of SMEs were failing to maximise their potential for sales.   

  • 44% of SMEs don’t even have a Web site. And of the ones that do, 93% do not use the homepage to provide a local contact number, 94% fail to use it to offer a map or location, and 79% do not publish their address.

  • Only half of Web sites belonging to small- to medium-sized businesses have a contact form, and even fewer – 39% – provide a contact e-mail address.

  • 71% are not mobile ready.

  • 80% of Web sites are not compatible across multiple platforms. 

The research also highlighted that the majority of SMEs are making scarce use of the marketing resources available, including those that are free:

  • Only 15% of respondents use e-mail marketing, with just 11% sending promotional offers via the medium.

  • 69% had no Twitter account.

  • 70% had no Facebook page.

  • 89% had no LinkedIn.

A huge proportion had low search engine visibility and 91% had not invested in AdWords, meaning SMEs are missing out on search based sales and failing to maximise the potential of search engine marketing to generate leads.

Meanwhile, 95% had no shopping cart – suggesting that there is an urgent need to educate entrepreneurs in how to use these simple but effective services. In fact, 66% of those questioned claimed that they would prefer to seek external advice, but only 24% have actually done so, suggesting that the majority don’t know where to find it.

Digital opportunities offer huge potential for SMEs and so it is shocking to see so few are getting this right. SMEs are in a prime position to drive the U.K. economy, but to fulfil their potential, they must recognise the importance of digital and also take advantage of the numerous sources of help and advice available to them.

“With 9 in 10 people in the UK now using the internet, there is huge potential for small businesses to compete on a much larger scale than ever before, so it is almost unbelievable how many are failing to capitalise on this,” said Trevor Nadeau, managing director EMEA of BuzzBoard.

“There is a clear need to address the misconception that digital strategies need be complex and to educate small businesses about the options available to help boost their digital presence.”