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High Street

SME confidence holds firm ahead of Christmas period

For the first time this year, small business confidence has held firm from one quarter to the next – with marketing services sectors seeing growth forecasts rise on Q2 levels.

After the Government announced its three-tier Covid restrictions, new research suggests the avoidance of a second national lockdown and certainty of direction until March has had a positive impact on UK small business confidence.

The findings come from a rolling study from Hitachi Capital Business Finance that has tracked small business growth forecasts every quarter for the last six years. Before Covid-19 struck – and even during the period of the Brexit vote – the percentage of small businesses predicting growth for the three months ahead stayed at between 36-39% for six consecutive quarters.

In April 2020, this crashed overnight to just 14% of small businesses predicting growth. 

The UK’s re-emergence from lockdown in July 2020 saw a sharp resurgence in confidence, with the percentage of small business owners predicting growth for the next three months doubling to 27%. The latest data conducted this week by Hitachi Capital reveals that the percentage of small businesses predicting significant and modest growth remains unchanged since summer months (27%). Further, the Q4 data reveals the third consecutive quarter where the percentage of small businesses fearing collapse has fallen – down from a high of 29% in Q2 2020 to a current figure of 12% for Q4 2020.

Joanna Morris, Head of Insight at Hitachi Capital Business Finance, said: “Despite the changed context from the summer months, with Covid numbers now again rising sharply, our data suggests small businesses are reacting positively to the current circumstances. The avoidance of national lockdown and the consensus that there will be restrictions through until March has at least given small business owners a degree of certainty against which to plan. 

“Our figures for 2020 show that small business confidence has had sharp rises and falls since the pandemic struck. Our new research conducted the day after the Government’s announcement on three-tier restrictions gives the first reaction from the small business community. The stabilising of confidence levels between Q2 and Q3 is a really important development as it suggests smaller enterprises (that can operate) are adapting to the new reality – and accept the prospect that we may all be in for a long-haul fight against Covid.” 

By sector the research also gives a welcome boost for the high street. Ahead of the critical Christmas period, there was a marked rise in the proportion of retail small businesses predicting growth (up from 27% to 35% in three months). The property and marketing services sectors also saw growth forecasts rise on Q2 levels.  

Conversely, growth forecasts in manufacturing fell sharply (down from 30% to 23% in three months) – and the hospitality sector remained in a serious position; here only 18% of small business owners predicted any form of growth, whilst 53% predicted contraction. Overall 29% of hospitality sector small businesses predicted they would struggle to survive, more than double the national average (12%).

Retailers urged to embrace digital personalisation

Retails have been urged to extend personalisation at every digital touchpoint and to every individual using AI, in light of more dire warnings on the state of the High Street.

The British Retail Consortium and KPMG have noted the lowest sales figures since 1995 in May, which in a year plagued with closures and CVAs raises the alarm for further decline in the UK high street in the coming months.

According to Raj Badarinath, VP Ecosystems at RichRelevance, brands and retailers are desperately looking for a solution, but stubbornly ignoring the most critical factor: what customers want.

Badarinath asserts that instead of exploring their customers as individuals (not rough marketing-made segments) they keep holding on to outdated personalisation tactics that are clearly not good enough.

“It is disappointing to see retail sales falling year on year in the UK. It’s a tricky time for UK retailers – as they battle on multiple fronts: monopolies like Amazon, ankle biters such as DVNBs (Digitally Native Vertical Brands) and more,” said Badarinath.

“UK consumers today are short on time and inundated with the problem of choice – too much content, product, offers and more. Retailers should reduce decision fatigue by extending personalization at every digital touchpoint and to every individual using AI, which provides the technical ability to do so for the first time. Retailers realize that the UK consumer is fickle and easily wooed, so techniques like hyper-personalization ensure a seamless, memorable customer experience, to increase repeat sales and improve overall lifetime value.”

Industry Spotlight: How can marketers ensure that their brand is being displayed correctly on the high street?

Luca Pagano, CEO of BeMyEye, discusses the need for marketers to find a cost-effective means of ensuring that retailers in brick and mortar stores are displaying their brand correctly.

In the digital age, it’s easy to forget that marketers face challenges offline, as well as online. When faced with decreasing budgets and difficulties justifying ROI to the c-suite, a common problem is proving that offline marketing materials are achieving what is intended. Marketers do not have the same visibility afforded to them when their brand appears in a physical store as they do in online environments. Ultimately, as soon as marketing materials leave the marketers hands, they go into a blind spot.

With the uncertainty of Brexit’s impact and falling store prices, marketers will have to work harder than ever to ensure consistent revenue streams and safeguard operational efficiency. The majority of sales for brands and retailers still take place offline and therefore marketers who supply brand products and materials to physical stores must be confident that their brand is being presented to consumers correctly.

 

Facing the challenge head on

The biggest challenge in ensuring this is the spread of location. Marketers cannot easily monitor how their products and marketing materials are being presented in thousands of physical stores. Normally, marketers would receive a sample snapshot of data providing an overview of their brands presence across a handful of stores, but how can marketers ensure that this is consistent everywhere to measure accurate compliance of promotional activation and ultimately ROI?

To achieve a census view, the brand needs to ‘see’ each individual store. However, up until now this has been a costly, lengthy and improbable task for sales teams to complete. Brands need the ability to check thousands of retailers for in-stock presence of their products, effective activation of marketing collateral and POP and compliance of price quickly and cost-effectively.

 

The role of crowdsourcing to ensure brand consistency

Mobile crowdsourcing and the gig economy have grown at rapid speeds in recent years and businesses are beginning to tap into its incredible power. Marketers can utilise hundreds of thousands of eyes on the ground who are ready to deliver detailed actionable insights about their brand. The crowd can deliver images of promotional activity, pricing and competitor positioning from any location, all in real time.

BeMyEye’s recent report ‘Eyeing up the cost of UK groceries’ is an example of this at work, revealing price differences for a basket of popular groceries across hundreds of retailers in the UK, collected over just 4 days. The crowd uncovered granular level details of branded goods, including that cans of coke are less likely to be stocked in two of the four big supermarkets than avocados, which highlights changes in distribution for Coca Cola in the UK.

The report also discovered interesting insights for marketers when looking at convenience shopping, which is a trend that could unseat leading retailers as consumers move towards ‘little and often’ shopping. For example, results from the report showcase that whilst supermarkets like Tesco remain the most cost-effective outlet for grocery basics like milk, eggs and bread, some other goods, such as avocados, can often be found for lower prices in off-licences.

 

Brands are already benefiting from the crowd

The data from the grocery report highlights that it is possible to gather actionable retail intelligence at scale, cost-effectively and in real-time, however utilising the crowd doesn’t just apply to the grocery sector, the data can be applied to any brand or retailer operating on the high street.

For example, the world’s largest cruise line company, MSC Cruises, uses BeMyEye’s crowd of eyes to analyse the presence of their marketing materials in its travel agency partners. The results amounted to a complete overhaul in the brand’s marketing strategy as 30 per cent of the travel agent partners weren’t displaying the materials correctly.

During uncertain times, marketers need an honest representation of how their marketing materials, promotional offers, and products are being presented and they can turn to mobile crowdsourcing to find this stability. A recent report from McKinsey showed the importance of insights for brands, stating that brands such as Phillips and TRESemmé are all driving growth by meeting consumer needs better than their competitors are. Brands who invest wisely in scaled data, analytics and real-time insights will often achieve up to 10 per cent sales increase, up to 5 per cent higher return on sales and a margin uplift of 1 to 2 per cent – something the c-suite cannot argue with when allocating marketing budgets.

Crowdsourcing and the gig economy have quickly become the fastest, most feasible, accurate and valuable means for marketers to gather granular insights about their products, pricing and promotional activity across every single offline touchpoints. Combating this blind spot will be fundamental for marketers to maximise their brand’s revenue streams in the uncertain post-Brexit retail landscape.

 

Luca is CEO of BeMyEye, Europe’s leader of mobile crowdsourcing for real world data gathering. Prior to BeMyEye, Luca was co-founder and CEO of Glamoo, Italy’s third largest player in the digital couponing space, acquired by Seat Pagine Gialle in 2014.

Prior to joining Glamoo, Luca was VP of Publishing EMEA at EA Mobile, where he spearheaded the growth of iconic brands like Fifa, Tetris and Need for Speed into the dominant titles of the App Store; from 2001 to 2009 Luca was Managing Director UK & International at Buongiorno, a global leader in mobile Value Added Services (VAS).