31st July 2020 - 7 mins read time

SMEs: Create Engaging Online Experiences, Create Online Growth

How SMEs are adopting new technology to create engaging online customer experiences and stand out from the competition

Regardless of the ongoing Covid pandemic there has been a continuous shift to buying more online due to the ease of payment and next day delivery, social media and social commerce influencers, transformative technology, and the product availability via numerous retail marketplaces. 2020 is expected to see the biggest boom in online retailing in UK history.

Given that 35% of all retailers in the UK are SMEs, the question is how can they stand up to the larger retail chains across the country when it comes to online sales?   How can SME retailers make sure they get their fair share of the online sales pie?

The answer is simple. They need to put their customers at the heart of everything they do, especially when trading online. 

Why Create an Engaging Online Shopping Experience?

We all know customer needs and demands are changing online.  Customers want the high street experience online. There is an expectation for relevance, recognition and reward and those businesses who do not offer these three key elements when a visitor lands on their website will quickly lose out to the competition.

Businesses need to create the same feel good factor customers get when shopping on the high street. They need to offer a virtual personal shopping assistant who helps them find that they want, makes suggestions of products they will love but hadn’t thought about, answers any questions they may have and reward their custom with discounts and offers.

Customers who feel valued and experience a great online shopping experience will always come back for more.

SMEs need to define their customer acquisition and retention strategies by putting the needs of the customers first and then find the right technology to fulfil them.

Here are three great examples of who is doing this right:

  1. BeerHawk shows you what’s hot to buy right now, summer sale graphics and promotions, product recommendations by category, cross sell recommendations on each product page
  2. Watchshop’s homepage pop-up feature allows them to segment their visitors by location to show appropriate offers to each group
  3. Forever21 lets you shop for an entire outfit at once, with suggestions for the accessories that will complete.

Engaging and personalised experiences can be on the website itself, within your search, within your email campaigns or across all your sales channels.

Ecommerce Challenges for SMEs

We recently conducted a piece of market research with 250 UK SME businesses to understand their ecommerce challenges and their attitudes towards creating engaging online shopping experiences.

  1. 40% of those surveyed clearly stated that the biggest challenge they faced was the ability for them to stand out from the competition
  2. 36%  find it hard to convert visitors into customers
  3. 25% clearly explained they were finding it difficult to build a loyal customer database. 

Taking these three biggest ecommerce challenges into account, the concerning fact was that only 6% when unprompted stated that it was important to ensure the customer journey was tailored to the customer’s needs.  When prompted this challenge jumped to nearly 48%! 

The research uncovered a range of additional challenges which included the lack of resource / time available to dedicate to the website, keeping content and products fresh and relevant through to the inability to manage large amounts of customer data and interpret it into a meaningful strategy. 

The outcome of these results show that SME retailers are busy focusing on challenges which can all easily be overcome with the right technology in place.  Nearly half of them agreed that creating an engaging online shopping experience should be a priority.

Avoiding False Economies

It’s such a false budget economy for SMEs to spend their marketing budgets driving customers to their websites when they have a poor conversion and customer retention rate.  We have all heard the saying that it is five times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep an existing one. Never could a truer word be spoken.  By using the right technology SMEs can easily improve their online conversion and customer retention rates.  It’s all about choosing the right one.

Technology Adoption Rates

What did stand from the research was the low adoption rate of technology solutions to help SMEs resolve their challenges. Interestingly, 66% of SMEs stated they had adopted software into their website and 34% on the flipside had not.   Most of the SME MarTech stacks contained email providers such as Mail Chimp and DotDigital, social media platforms such as Facebook, and analytics tech such as Google Analytics and Hotjar. When it came to UX, CRO and ecommerce personalisation technology though very few were already on board.

Only 10% of businesses stated that they had embraced or started implementing a new technology to address the principal challenges surrounding improving their online customer journey and providing an engaging and personalised shopping experience. Only 10%!

Barriers to Adoption

So, what is stopping SMEs from taking on new technologies to address their challenges? Our research highlighted several misconceptions around technology that creates an engaging online shopping experience. Let’s outline some of those misconceptions along with the reality.


Perception: Overall, technology that delivers both personalisation and engaging customer journeys were perceived to be too expensive and only something larger enterprise businesses could afford.

Reality: There are several ecommerce personalisation providers in the market and the prices do vary for each. However, there are affordable solutions such as PureClarity that are specifically designed for the SME market and offer a huge range of features at a very cost effective price.


Perception: Our research reported SMEs have small marketing and ecommerce teams which do not have the time to be managing their online activity in full let alone new technology platforms.

Reality: The beauty of ecommerce personalisation providers such as PureClarity is that once the software is implemented on a website, the Artificial Intelligence does all the heavy lifting for you. The AI can automatically show the right products at the right time to each of your customer groups without you having to lift a finger. 

Marketing and Ecommerce teams will already be creating new seasonal  website and email campaign graphics so there is no additional resource needed to upload these campaigns into the technology admin.  With an additional few clicks, you can determine when you want the campaign to show and to who and let the technology run this accurately for you. On top of these campaigns the AI will automatically be presenting the right products recommendations in real-time without any intervention from you.

Overly Complicated

Perception: Our research highlighted a fear and/or a resistance of complicated management systems and that SMEs don’t have the resource and knowledge inhouse to manage.

Reality: Most Admin areas for technology like this is wizard-driven so provides easy to understand step-by-step instructions of how to set up a campaign, a pop up, a new customer segment and once it’s there you can leave the technology to run this for you. You will always be supported with online chat support, monthly insights meetings where your Success Manager will help you get the most out of your customers.  Good ecommerce personalisation providers will provide insightful analytics as to the performance on each of your campaigns, how your customers are behaving and provide recommendations for further optimisation and marketing opportunities.


Perception: SMEs were convinced it wouldn’t work with their website and were afraid of the new technology bringing their site down

Reality:  Most established ecommerce personalisation providers have approved plug-ins and extensions readily available in all major ecommerce marketplaces. Whether this is Magento, Shopify, WooCommerce and BigCommerce etc, these extensions are very much free downloads to plug-in and play.  Most businesses are happy to test the new technology on a staging site first during their free trial period and in the most cases are very happy to install onto live straight afterwards.  For custom integrations, most ecommerce personalisation providers have dedicated teams to develop the bespoke integration quickly and effectively at no cost at all.

Data Management

Perception: Smaller SMEs didn’t think they had enough data to warrant software investment and other SMEs fell that their data is too disjointed and overwhelming that they are unable to consolidate and interpret into a meaningful marketing strategy.

Reality: Artificial Intelligence can work with any amount of data and starts its analysis and learning from the minute it is switched on. The AI collects data about every one of your visitors, tracking their interactions with you onsite and offsite to build up a picture of their behaviour, their dislikes, likes, interests and habits.  This advanced form of data manipulation which can be completed quickly would take a team of people a colossal amount of time to complete manually.

So, there you have it. SMEs can cost effectively address the lion share of their ecommerce challenges with the implementation of ecommerce personalisation technology. It’s not expensive, hard to use or time consuming. Early SME adopters are already reaping the benefits of by seeing an increase in online sales and good growth in customer loyalty. It’s time for your business to stand out head and shoulders from your competition. Now is certainly not the time to get left behind.

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