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UK small businesses positive about future growth but concerns remain on meeting consumer demand

Published 20/07/2021

  • 74% of SMEs are optimistic about the future

  • Only 49% of SMEs believe that they are prepared to handle increased demand after more than a year of lockdowns 

  • The most confident sectors were hotels, B&Bs, gyms and hairdressers

Almost two-thirds of the UK’s SMEs (61%) remained positive at the start of 2021 despite the continued pandemic, and almost three quarters (71%) are now optimistic about future growth, according to the findings of a new survey of business sentiment conducted by payments and ecommerce provider, Opayo, and its partner, Discover® Global Network1.

However, as the UK economy continues to recover from the pandemic, only half (49%) of UK small businesses believe that they are set-up to cope with a significant increase in sales and pent-up consumer demand after retail, hospitality and leisure outlets reopened in April. According to The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), as many as 59% of small businesses had to close their premises during the pandemic2.

In terms of geographical trends, the North is the UK’s most positive region. 

  • Yorkshire and the Humber is the most optimistic place in the UK to be a small business owner. 100% of the businesses region said they were feeling fairly, or very, positive about the future. 

  • That positivity is evident across the whole of Northern England. After Yorkshire and the Humber, the regions that had the highest rates of positive feeling about the future were North West England (86%) and North East England (85%).

  • Scotland tops the list of regions who are feeling positive in Q1 of 2021, but is the only region to see that optimism decline when talking about the future. 

Small businesses operating in some of the most affected industries by the pandemic, such as hotels, gym and hairdressers and beauty showed the highest levels of business optimism for future growth, despite several national and local lockdowns. Hotels, B&Bs and inns, for example, reported a 61% boost in business confidence, while hairdressers and beauty businesses saw confidence rise by 33% as they geared up to reopen to the public in April and May. 

Echoing these sentiments, Sami Lovett, founder of Just Lovett Design in Leeds, a company that creates branded, bespoke products for weddings, added: “Being able to adapt meant that when we locked down again in January, it wasn't such a massive panic for me personally. And having the roadmap in place gave people a lot more confidence. We’re back on the arc of hope!”

Sean Wilson, Managing Director, at Opayo, said: “Our research highlights that the UK’s small businesses have been incredibly resilient over the past year, given the continued uncertainty around the pandemic. It is 
to see that business confidence is strong as the UK economy continues to reopen as we emerge from the pandemic.”

Chris Winter, Vice President of Global Acceptance, EMEA at Discover ® Global Network, said: “The research has helped us understand how we can support merchants to grow far beyond their local communities, especially with the rise of online cross border spend in the UK. This will help merchants meet the changing shopping habits of local and international customers across physical and digital retail stores.”

                                                                  

[1] Research conducted by Opayo and Discover ® Global Network on 160 UK small businesses between the 15th – 30th April 2021.

[2] Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) “A menu for recovery: Supporting and growing small hospitality and tourism businesses after the pandemic”, p.7 

                                                                 

This is the first in a series of activities being carried out by Opayo and Discover ® Global Network this year. For more information, or to request insights from our upcoming in-depth sentiment survey report (due to be released in July), please contact us here.