Fifth of business owners hopeful Freedom Day will be the biggest trading moment of the year

New research reveals a fifth of owners at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) hope restrictions fully lifting will be the biggest moment for business growth compared to the usual big growth periods such as Christmas (14%), summer holidays (11%) and Black Friday weekend (5%).

However, while optimism is rising, for small and medium businesses the long-anticipated unlocking of England and Scotland, and the easing of restrictions for Wales and Northern Ireland on the horizon, brings with it a feeling of uncertainty. According to PayPal’s Business of Change: Recovery & Rebuild report, 43% of SMEs are still worried about what the future holds.

The report, which polled over 1,000 SMEs, shows that nearly two thirds of business owners (63%) believe the impact of the pandemic has permanently changed consumer spending on the high-street with two in five (40%) believing that consumers will primarily shop online now and in the future and 30% believing spending on the high street will never recover to pre-pandemic levels. What’s more 60% predict online shopping will prevail even with restrictions lifted.

In order to navigate this online shift, 73% of British SMEs have now learnt new digital skills. 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%).

Looking ahead, 65% of SMEs in England have plans in the next 12 months to update their tech to continue to support their customers digitally, despite all legal COVID restrictions easing. Over a quarter (26%) plan to improve their website, 22% want to engage more customers directly via online feedback and 14% plan to create more payment options at check-out. The report even revealed that nearly one in six (16%) plan to invest in new software and app technology to cater to the needs of their shoppers.

Ben Ramsden, Head of SME at PayPal, comments: “The past year and a half has been one of the most challenging periods for UK small businesses which has demanded a complete rethink for most day-to-day operations. Business owners have shown incredible resilience and learnt a range of new digital skills, which will now be crucial in powering their recovery. We will continue to support entrepreneurs as ecommerce opportunities grow so that they can keep pace as customer experience and needs evolve.”

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