Experian data reveals a nation of digital shopkeepers

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The UK has become a nation of digital shopkeepers during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Experian’s analysis of the changing shape of the business population.

There has been a surge in the number of retail, and food and beverage companies registered since April 2020, as the UK’s resilient entrepreneurs have progressively turned to digital marketplaces to find new opportunities

Businesses in these sectors are increasingly based at residential addresses, compared to the locations of those registered at the start of last year. Banks and other service providers will rapidly need to understand the changes in the business population and the directors behind them.

Three quarters (76%) of retail businesses formed since April are registered at residential addresses, up from 65% between January and March of this year. Retail accounted for 12.5% of the business established in 2020, up from 8.6% of companies formed in 2019 and 7.7% in 2018.

Cake bakers, craft gin distillers and cheese subscription clubs all belong to the food and beverage services category. 56% of new businesses of this type have been based from home since April, up from 42% in the first three months of 2020.

The description of the UK as “a nation of shopkeepers” is often attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, whereas today businesses have adapted quickly to operate and transact virtually during the pandemic. Digital advancements which were previously thought to be years away have been condensed into a few months.

The number of new start-ups increased significantly from May onwards. 775,622 businesses were incorporated in 2020, an increase of 13% on the 685,962 registered in 2019. It mirrors the trend seen during the 2008 recession when people who had left employment went on to set up their own businesses.

James McGarva, managing director of business information services at Experian UK&I, said: “The challenges the Covid-19 pandemic has posed for businesses cannot be understated, but it is heartening to see so many people respond with their entrepreneurial spirit. Changes in how we live our lives and where we spend our time have created a demand for services which would once primarily be based on the high street or in industrial units.

“People who may be on furlough or made redundant have responded to that demand by setting up from their kitchens and spare bedrooms.

“The trend of home-based businesses has been accelerated by the pandemic. Often these companies are run by first-time directors who will expect the slick digital services they are used to as consumers. Lenders and service providers will need to use insights from data to understand these companies and then offer them services in the ways they are familiar with if they want to succeed.”

A guide for how to start a business in five steps can be found on the Experian website.

Table 1: Percentage of new businesses based at residential addresses

CategoryJan 2016 to Dec 2017Jan 2018 to Dec 2019Jan 2020 to Mar 2020Apr 2020 to Nov 2020
Retail39%53%65%76%
Food and beverage services24%33%42%56%