Run a small business without a website? Some still do

A website is one of the most basic tools for reaching customers a business has, but a surprising number of small business owners don’t have one, according to a survey by Digital.com, which regularly reviews web hosting, design and e-commerce platform companies.

In its poll of 1,250 small retail business owners, 23% reported not having a website. And respondents weren’t all necessarily just small mom-and-pop shops: Digital.com included owners of companies with up to 500 employees in its survey.

Those who don’t have a website have a variety of reasons for why not, but Digital.com said no matter what the rationale is, it is nearly impossible to build a sustainable brand in the 21st century without a website.

A third of those surveyed said they don’t have a website because social media fulfills all their online needs. Social media sites are good for promoting a business, but they’re not e-commerce tools.

“Most people have no intent to buy when they visit these platforms,” said Digital.com small business expert Dennis Consorte. “When someone visits an actual website, their intent to buy tends to be higher.”

Twenty-nine percent responded that their reason for not having a website was that their customers don’t go online.

“That makes no sense if you look at the numbers. I was just looking at a Pew Research study which shows 85% of Americans have smartphones. They have a mobile device in their pocket probably at the time they are thinking about shopping at your store,” Consorte said.

According to Digital.com, U.S. consumers spend an average of more than six hours online every day, and 97% of consumers start their search for a local businesses online.

Almost one in three — 30% — of consumers say they won’t patronize an establishment that doesn’t have a website.

Another top reason cited for not having a website was because it would be too expensive. But small business owners can use any one of a number of platforms to build a professional-looking website for free, and have it reliably hosted for less than $10 a month.

For business owners who don’t think they are tech-savvy enough to do it themselves, and don’t want to pay a professional web design firm, Consorte suggests filling a retail job opening with a young adult who is tech savvy, and give them two hats to wear.

“They are probably spending half of the time they are in your shop on social media between customers. They can spend some of that time building your website,” Consorte said.

For small retail businesses who aren’t now selling their products online, but would consider it, the mechanics of that aren’t as daunting as they once were. In fact, with so many third-party e-commerce platforms, selling online is pretty easy.

“You log into a website like Shopify or any other e-commerce platform and very easily you can go to a page that lists all of your orders. You just click through them. It tells you exactly what to ship and to whom to ship it. You press a button that says you’ve completed the order, and you’re done. That’s it,” Consorte said.

Digital.com’s survey results are posted online.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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