Key Findings:

  • 23% of small retail businesses don’t have a website
  • One-third of businesses without a website say they’ve never needed one
  • 29% of businesses without a website say their customers don’t go online
  • Online retail grew by 5.5% from 2019 to 2020, making websites a more important tool for businesses than ever
  • The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated trends towards online retail, making websites more important than ever for small businesses, according to experts

According to a new Digital.com survey of 1250 small retail business owners in the United States, 23% of small retailers still do not have a website, despite ever-increasing e-commerce sales and a global pandemic that forced many brick-and-mortar stores to close in 2020.

The business owners without a website offered a variety of justifications, but according to Digital’s small business expert, Dennis Consorte, no matter what the rationale is, it’s nearly impossible to build a sustainable brand in the 21st century without a website.

“E-commerce has been increasing year-over-year for decades,” says Consorte. “Online shopping is more convenient than in-store shopping, and the old ways of doing business are declining. People are accustomed to researching businesses and services on the internet. The question isn’t whether you need a website. It’s whether you will survive without one and for how long.”

1/3 claim they’ve ‘never needed’ a website—experts disagree

Survey respondents represent a variety of different retail businesses, including department stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, discount stores, off-price retailers, superstores, hypermarkets, and specialty stores.

When asked why they don’t have a website, 32% of small business owners say they have never needed one. Twenty-nine percent say this is because most of their customers don’t go online, and 33% say social media fulfills all their online needs.

However, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was increasing evidence that these attitudes are simply not true.

According to a 2019 report, consumers spend an average of 6 hours and 42 minutes per day online. As of 2018, 97% of consumers start their search for local businesses online, with 30% of consumers saying they won’t patronize an establishment that doesn’t have a website.

“These trends are unlikely to reverse, especially after a year of pandemic-related lockdowns,” says Consorte. “The COVID-19 lockdowns taught us to expect the unthinkable. Most of us spent the majority of our time at home for over a year. Many will continue this trend, and it’s natural for people to weave more online shopping into their at-home schedules. Your competitors are exploring online opportunities, and if you’re not there, they’ll win over your customers.”

Is having social media enough?

As for social media, Consorte says these platforms can help small business owners promote their stores, but there are needs that only a website can fulfill.

“Social media is great for raising awareness about your products, but most people have no intent to buy when they visit these platforms,” says Consorte. “When someone visits an actual website their intent to buy tends to be higher.”

“Having a website also allows business owners to capture email addresses or phone numbers, which they can use for inexpensive marketing,” says Consorte. “This gives you the opportunity to develop complex email and content funnels that build trust in your company. When people are ready to shop for products and services in your industry, they will think of you.”

Create a Website that Drives Business

Outside of questioning the necessity and utility of websites, other commonly cited reasons for not having a website boil down to a lack of resources: 26% of small business owners say they don’t have the money to build a website, 26% don’t have the staff to support a website, and 24% say they don’t know how to create and run a website.

“Some of these concerns are easily addressed. Website builder platforms like Wix and web hosting services like GoDaddy allow users to create quick, basic websites,” explains Consorte. “However, a better option is to start with a relatively inexpensive web-hosting package for a few dollars per month. Many of them come with one-click installs for WordPress and other popular content management systems and e-commerce platforms.”

Another option is an all-in-one e-commerce solution like Shopify, although Consorte notes that these platforms give business owners less flexibility than building their own website.

Finally, the other option is to pay a web developer and designer to build a custom website.

“This will require an up-front investment,” says Consorte, “but it can bring tremendous value.”

Getting started can be intimidating, but Digital has you covered with a ranking of this year’s best website builders and a guide to help you figure out who’s the best fit for you.

Methodology

The data for this report comes from a survey designed and paid for by Digital.com. The survey was administered by online survey platform Pollfish on May 7, 2021. Digital.com surveyed 1250 owners of brick-and-mortar small businesses (defined as 500 or fewer employees). The survey contained both single-answer and multiple answer questions.