Nurturing the skills businesses learnt to navigate the pandemic will key in their success moving forward.
Over the past 16 months businesses have had to navigate arguably one of the most challenging periods in recent history. Now with all legal COVID-19 restrictions eased in England and a slower reopening on the horizon for the rest of the UK, how can businesses build on the skills learnt during the pandemic to help them thrive in the future?
Prior to England’s long-anticipated ‘Freedom Day’, research from PayPal’s Business of Change report revealed that a fifth of small and medium businesses hoped that restrictions lifting would mark the biggest trading moment of the year, more so than Christmas.
Despite this optimism, the pandemic has resulted in an increasingly unpredictable business landscape where feelings of uncertainty remain prevalent amongst SMEs. Even with the reopening, 43% are still worried about what the future holds.
Indeed, our research shows that that nearly two thirds of business owners believe the impact of COVID-19 has permanently changed consumer spending on the high-street. The momentous shift towards ecommerce has led two in five SMEs to believe that consumers will primarily shop online now and in the future and has left 30% believing spending on the high street will never recover to pre-pandemic levels.
It’s no secret that the pandemic left many businesses grappling with a complete overhaul of day-to-day operations, yet despite the challenges, over a third of SME owners credit it as a positive catalyst for change as digital skills soared during lockdown.
Our research shows that resilient businesses were able to navigate this shift to online by upskilling, with 73% of British SMEs learning new digital skills because of the challenges posed to their business by the pandemic. The report found that the key areas for development and learning were social media marketing (21%), e-commerce (16%) and learning how to take digital payments (11%).
Technology also played a vital role in facilitating this new way of working for businesses and will remain crucial as ecommerce opportunities continue to grow. We know that 65% of SMEs in England have plans to update their tech in the next 12 months so that they can continue to support their customers digitally and that one in six plan to invest in new software and app technology, while one in seven plan to adopt new payment options.
As we begin to move forward to a fully open UK economy, SMEs should embrace the skills they have learnt and the opportunities ecommerce has given them to expand their business beyond offline trading. While it is tempting to revert to how operations were pre-pandemic, the next few months bring with it an opportunity to grow businesses further.
What businesses crave more than ever is certainty, but in this fast paced and ever-changing landscape certainty is more elusive than ever. Digital skills and investments in technology will give businesses the agility to adapt to whatever comes their way and help accelerate the recovery we hope to see this summer and beyond.
*Link to the report referenced above can be found here.