Determining where a small business ends and large one begins is extremely difficult, but most consumers would agree that the differences between the two extend beyond size alone.
Small to medium-sized businesses are usually perceived as offering a more personal service, and often viewed less cynically by their customers. Large firms, on the other hand, may be able to offer lower prices and greater efficiencies, but many believe that they are only really interested in the bottom line.
However, the growth of online shopping, which has removed the necessity of face-to-face interactions within a retail environment, is beginning to erode the advantages held by small businesses. UK consumers value small businesses highly for the personal service they provide offline, but replicating this online is more challenging. According to a recent survey carried out by YouGov and 123-reg, 56 per cent of British adults agree that personal service is a major advantage of buying in store from smaller firms, but 59 per cent of online shoppers felt that large business websites were better than their smaller counterparts.
There are a multitude of factors that explain the relative strengths and weaknesses of small and large businesses. Offline, smaller companies are deemed to be more attentive, engaging, friendly and caring. The smaller workforce also makes it easier to build relationships over time by remembering past purchases, for example. Online, however, is a different story. Added financial clout and organisation skills can give big business websites the edge. Some of the factors that consumers prefer when shopping online with large businesses include social sharing, product reviews, ease of use, reliability and site information customised to the shopper.
Patrick Fagan, a behavioural scientist at Brainchimp that helped conduct the research, believes that closing the “digital personalisation gap” is vital if smaller businesses are to inspire the same level of trust online, as they do face-to-face.
“Applying personalisation to a website drives trust and empathy, which in turn drives purchase and behavioural intent,” he said. “So, digital personalisation closes the trust and empathy gap between small businesses’ online and offline activity.”
Clearly shoppers are keen for small businesses to replicate their offline personalisation through their websites, but this can prove financially challenging. Research showed that adding experiential personalisation to sites could cut lost sales opportunities in half and double return visits for small businesses. For many UK consumers, the desire is there to buy from small businesses online, but a poor online experience pushes them towards larger, more established brands.
Fortunately, website building tools are becoming more affordable and easier to use, making them more accessible for smaller firms. Today, consumers expect businesses to have at least some form of online presence and this does not have to come at the detriment of the offline experience.
It is important for small businesses to retain their unique character and personal touch – the very things that consumers find most appealing – but learn from their big business rivals. Being able to add personalisation to your website not only leads to increased sales, but also allows small businesses to bring their offline strengths into the digital age.