'Digital divide' persists among most small businesses, but young 'mobilepreneurs' paint an App-ier picture

  • Despite a year of remote working and social distancing, O2 Business research reveals 93% of the UK’s small businesses have not set up any part of their business on a smartphone app since March 2020
  • Yet young, digitally savvy ‘mobilepreneurs’ are a contrasting bright spot, with two-thirds of 18-24-year olds have sold at least one item online since March 2020 and 33% wanting to sell items on smartphone apps full-time
  • O2 Business offers tailored flexible plans and support for small and medium-sized business (SMB) customers as the nation emerges from lockdown

Despite the UK economy spending much of the past 12 months under Covid-19  restrictions or lockdowns, just 7% of small businesses (those with fewer than 50 employees) have moved at least part of their business onto a smartphone app since the beginning of the first lockdown in March 2020.

This means that 9 in 10 (93%) small businesses surveyed by YouGov on behalf of O2 Business have not yet set up any part of their business on a smartphone app to help run or manage their business during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The findings suggest that for all the talk of an acceleration in digital trends, small British businesses need more support to help them adapt and thrive in an increasingly digital world – with social distancing in force until June at the earliest. This comes as research conducted last year by PwC found that a record number of shops had disappeared from high streets in the first half of 2020, with 11,120 chain store outlets closing. This figure is twice as many as in the same period last year, demonstrating the need for businesses to adapt even before Covid-19 hit.

Young mobilepreneurs paint an App-ier picture

As small businesses are slower to adapt to new technology, young, digitally native ‘mobilepreneurs’ are already capitalising. According to a study of 18-24 year olds conducted by Censuswide on behalf of O2 Business, two-thirds have been using smartphone apps to sell their wares online prolifically since the start of the first lockdown.

A third of respondents to the survey even said they were likely to set up a business full-time on smartphone apps to sell items using apps such as Depop, Instagram and Facebook Marketplace.

When asked why they chose to use smartphone apps, options around flexibility (24%) and ease of use (21%) were among the most popular, demonstrating how smartphone apps can support business growth.

Amelia Murray, Depop seller and A-Level student, 18, said: “Using my phone is a really simple way to make money selling my old clothes, or new clothes I’ve found in charity and vintage shops and invested in to sell on. All it takes is posting a picture of me modelling the clothes and waiting for a buyer to contact me, it really is that easy.

“Since starting on Depop, I’ve sold over 80 items and made over £1000. I’ve also recently bought a sewing machine to help me customise and tailor clothes. It’s definitely something I would love to be able to do full-time.

“Managing it all from my phone means that it’s also super flexible, allowing me to speak to potential buyers whether I’m at home or out and about. I think this has definitely helped me become more successful!”

Tailored business support

O2 Business is committed to SMBs through this time and help them make the most of the benefits connectivity and smartphone apps have to offer.

Through access to O2’s flexible tariffs, SMB customers can keep their businesses up and running, even while on the go, giving them increased flexibility during those quieter periods or set for those more data-draining moments. O2’s Business customer service and Account Managers are also available to provide free impartial advice to SMBs on their technology needs.

Kate Mulligan-Brown, Director of SMB Marketing at O2 said: “For all the talk of the pandemic driving life online, these findings show that many small businesses still have an opportunity to embrace the advantages that technology offers. As we emerge from lockdown, we need to ensure that digital connectivity is at the heart of our economy as we start to build back better.

“At O2 Business, we want to support the entrepreneurs and SMB owners who have been struggling by providing them with access and support to help set up and manage their business on their phones. Alongside our market-leading range of solutions, giving them the flexibility they need for their business to succeed.”

For more information on O2’s flexible Business plans available to SMBs, please visit: https://www.o2.co.uk/business/why-o2/flex-your-business.

ENDS

Methodology

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 536 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 15th – 17th February 2021.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Senior Decision Makers in Small Businesses.

The research was conducted by Censuswide, with 2,001 respondents aged 18-24 in the UK between 12.02.21 – 16.02.21. Censuswide abide by and employ members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.