The majority of UK businesses now recognize that a web presence is essential for effective sales, marketing and customer communication. Whilst retailers will always be most concerned with the standard of their products and service, no firm these days can afford to neglect their business development.

In fact, thanks to the surge in the popularity of smartphones, a growing number of Britons are now even browsing the web whilst on the move. It is nowadays easy to instantly research an independent retailer online whilst standing outside their shop on the street. However, the latest research shows that too many small business websites are falling behind the times.

A recent study by 1&1 Internet finds that a total of 46 per cent of consumers have cancelled plans to spend with a small business after finding a poor quality website. 1&1’s ‘2011 Digital High Street Audit’ – a study of nearly 2000 UK adults, reveals that 37 per cent have walked away completely whilst a further 9 per cent have opted to spend less as a direct result. The data shows worryingly low levels of consumer satisfaction with the small business websites available to them. The risk to firms from providing a bad online experience is clear – 49 per cent of consumers believe that a bad website makes a worse impact than a business having no website at all.

It is clear that many small business websites have not evolved as they should have in recent years – and these likely contain a number of local retailers, supermarkets and cash and carries. One third of consumers surveyed (34 per cent) believe that in general, the small business websites they use are “tired” and “unimpressive”, and 41 per cent frequently find errors such as typos or broken URLs. Many consumers feel that many small business websites today are unattractive and often do not perform well. How well does your own website measure up?

It is thus unsurprising that a further study of 480 UK small firms with a website finds that 50 per cent have never asked their customers for feedback about their website. However, many owners are aware that they have website problems. 66 per cent of firms surveyed admit that they struggle to maintain an attractive website, with the most common pain-point being the sourcing of fresh content (38 per cent). 30 per cent have been ‘reluctant’ or ‘embarrassed’ to recommend their website to their customers, at least once, because they knew of faults.

Significantly, many British consumers are keen to help business owners create a more satisfying online experience. Given the facility for providing feedback, 33 per cent of website users would provide a review or recommendation for improving a small business website. Hence, all types of companies, whether they be an accountant or cornershop, should add a feedback form to their website, or set up an email address for collecting valuable user-comments. UK businesses can be reassured that investments made to improve their websites can positively impact their bottom line.

The research shows that keeping an ugly or badly functioning website online can comprise a risk to your revenue and development. Consumers have ever higher expectations, and it is essential that every company website inspires confidence.

Tools to give a head start

Today there are website packages aimed specifically at helping small businesses launch a compelling and effective website in minutes. In particular, there are packages from around £10/month that provide a choice of industry-specific templates and content, such as those for local retailers. The packages are designed to be used by any level of computer user and include everything that a retailer needs to launch online.

An industry-specific website package will come with a grocery-themed template and related pre-filled texts and images. Within such packages, there will be tools for social media and mobile functionality, and features like feedback forms, relevant image library and location, news and weather content, as well as shop functionality.

No enterprise can afford the loss of image and sales revenue that a poorly presented or broken website can lead to. Every retail firm would be wise to ensure that their website grows and improves even modestly each and every month. Most often, it is not the ‘wow factor’ that wins out, it is the consistent and effective who are rewarded on today’s Web.

By Richard Stevenson

1&1 Internet Ltd

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