Nine out of 10 small and medium-sized businesses in the North East have boosted their revenues by up to £10,000 through using the internet.
However, fewer than a third (29%) of firms in the region actually sell their products or accept payments online, compared to a third (36%) nationally, highlighting the potential rewards being missed out on by many businesses, a survey shows.
The survey was commissioned as part of Lloyds Banking Group’s commitment to Go ON UK, the cross-sector charity established by Martha Lane Fox to make the UK the world’s most digitally-skilled nation. The charity recently launched Go ON North East, a campaign to raise the digital skills of individuals and organisations in the region.
The survey also revealed that almost a fifth (17%) of SMEs across the North East do not go online at all for their business needs - more than double the national average of 8%.
Of those businesses that do use the internet, respondents highlighted significant savings in both time and costs. Almost a third (30%) of firms have seen up to a 5% time saving, and well over half (61%) report saving up to £5,000 a year by going online.
In addition to the cost and time savings of going online, two thirds (66%) of North East firms report higher demand for their goods and services from other regions, as a result of their online presence.
This is well above the UK average of 49% and demonstrates how online trading can open up new geographic areas for trade, which can provide new avenues for growth as well as offering some protection against regional economic turbulence.
She added: “We talk down this country too much, but actually we have the highest percentage of e-commerce in the world. However, there is a skills gap. We want to ensure nobody is left behind and that businesses can access these skills.”
Craig McNaughton, area director SME Banking, Lloyds Bank in the North East and Cumbria, added: “If businesses are going to remain competitive on a national and a global scale, it is vital that improving their digital skills is made a priority.
“That is why we have partnered with Go ON UK to help highlight the very real benefits that online trading can offer to businesses of all sizes and sectors, and to help equip them with the tools they need.”
Graham Walker, chief executive of Go ON UK, concluded: “This research highlights exactly why it is so important for businesses to be online. Saving time and money is crucial to SMEs, which is why we need to ensure as many as possible have the digital skills they need to take advantage of the internet. The Go ON North East campaign aims to do just that.”
Reaping the benefits
One business that has begun to reap the benefits of an online presence is the Crescent Cafe.
Founded in 1925 by the grandparents of the current owners, the cafe, in Seaton Delaval, Northumberland, has been producing its renowned Italian ice cream for almost 90 years.
Now the business has undertaken a major refurbishment of both its cafe and ice cream production facilities, as well as launching a new range of products.
Owners Grazia and Milvia Bonadies have also begun to build a substantial online presence.
Stefania Bonadies, marketing director and fourth generation of the founding family, said: “We’ve been looking for more ways to help us reach a wider audience, particularly through developing a new website this year and possibly opening another outlet.
“The Facebook page has also been a great way for us to directly interact with our customers across the country and we shared our grandmother’s 100th birthday with our friends online with pictures of Rosa enjoying an ice cream.”