Supporting small businesses during COVID-19 lockdowns

COVID-19 has brought a host of challenges for small businesses throughout 2020. Some had to close temporarily or even shut down for good, but even those permitted to remain open had to adapt operations in some way to keep in line with Government restrictions. Thankfully, bike shops have been seen as essential retail throughout each lockdown, with many experiencing an increase in demand as the UK looked for alternative ways to travel and keep fit.

In fact, research from last June showed that cycle shops are set to be among the businesses least affected by a reduction in consumer spending as a result of COVID-19; 87% of Brits said they planned to maintain or increase their spending at bicycle shops compared to pre-lockdown levels, and in terms of those who said they’d reduce their spend, only 5% of Brits said they planned to do this with cycle shops.

And COVID-19 lockdowns have boosted the nation’s love for small businesses, research commissioned by American Express and Small Business Saturday UK has found, with 59% of Brits saying they now support local businesses more than previously.

“Small businesses have done remarkably well, and we saw many of them pivoting and showing amazing creativity to adapt their businesses to the new restrictions,” says Michelle Ovens MBE, director of Small Business Saturday UK. “In particular, we have definitely seen a lot of small businesses moving online and boosting their digital capability.”

Online sales have been strong throughout the pandemic, with British Retail Consortium data showing online non-food sales increasing by 39% in October last year, against a growth of 3% the year before. The non-food online penetration rate also increased, from 31.7% in October 2019 to 42.3% in October 2020.

But ongoing diversification is needed from small businesses as this winter is going to be ‘tough’ – whether that is products, services, or routes to market, adds Ovens. “Right now, firms need to do whatever they can to generate extra revenue and ensure cash flow. Keep working on the problem and try new things.

“Things are really hard right now, but with glimmers of hope on the horizon with vaccines etc, there are positive things to cling to. In the longer term, this will open up new opportunities so that on the other side of this crisis businesses could have new revenue streams to add to old ones. This can be the foundation of future growth and underpin a long-term recovery.”

Shining a light
The UK’s eighth annual Small Business Saturday, which took place on 5th December 2020, encouraged people to support small firms not just on the day itself, but in the coming weeks, months and beyond. “With the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns and tough new restrictions heading into the winter months, small firms are facing prolonged headwinds,” says Ovens.

“Small Business Saturday’s mission has never been more important, and it is vital that we continue to support small businesses as the crisis continues, particularly given the invaluable role they played in supporting communities. The good news is that people are supporting small businesses like never before. Lockdowns have boosted our love of small firms, with 59% of Brits saying they now support small businesses more than previously, according to new research Small Business Saturday did with American Express.”

Spend on last year’s Small Business Saturday UK hit £1.1 billion, exceeding the billion pound mark for the first time. The day saw 15.4 million people hitting the high street and shopping small, according to American Express, representing a 2.2 million decline in footfall compared to last year, but the average per-person spend rose by 56%, from £45.42 in 2019 to £70.74 in 2020.

“It is fantastic to see such phenomenal, record-breaking support for small businesses, in one of the toughest years many have ever experienced,” says Ovens. “Small Business Saturday has been running for eight years, but [last] year’s campaign has been our most vital. We are delighted that it’s generated such a massive boost for small businesses, at a time they are facing huge challenges with the ongoing effects of the pandemic.

“I have no doubt that this strong support for small businesses has been driven by recognition of the critical role they played in our communities during lockdown. So many firms worked hard to pivot and adapt their businesses during this national emergency, often stepping in to offer useful services, vital products, as well as being a source of practical support and kindness, particularly for the NHS and frontline workers.

“While there is light at the end of the tunnel for 2021, with a vaccine, this winter is still going to be tough for many small businesses and it’s so important that we all continue to support them.”

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