As 2014 ends and the new year begins, business and technology experts are looking at online business trends. A number of high-profile security breaches have led to significant shifts in consumer behavior, especially when it comes to online shopping and the types of businesses that they purchase from. A recent survey shows that many online consumers are being driven to small businesses by security concerns—but how will this affect those businesses, their digital presences, and their web hosts?
The survey in question was taken by Web.com in order to determine how online security breaches would affect holiday shopping. The study was conducted online from September 19th to the 26th of 2014. 3,039 respondents were interviewed, 1,003 of which were small businesspeople and 2,036 of which were consumers. The margin of error was 1.5%.
One of the most relevant results of the study is that many consumers are losing their trust in the security of larger companies. 69% of consumers were worried about their privacy and security while shopping online this year, and nearly 30% were more concerned about big businesses than they were about small ones. Nearly two-thirds of consumers were influenced to shop online more with small businesses this year.
Why is this? Although bigger businesses usually make an effort to keep customer data secure, they are also targeted much more often than other entities because they are such large targets. A big box store often collects the data of thousands of customers, which means that if a hacker can break into their system then they’ve hit the metaphorical jackpot. This fear is borne out by news headlines, which report another major breach every few months. Target was hacked during the holiday season of 2013, and Neiman Marcus announced a security breach the following January. Home Depot was targeted in the spring, Staples was attacked over the summer, and Kmart fell prey in the fall. Most recently, Sony has suffered a number of cyber-attacks in the past few weeks. It’s no surprise that so many Americans mistrust the security of major retailers.
Small Business Benefits
So what alternative do consumers have? Many are turning to small businesses, which offer less of a target to hackers and are thus considered to be more secure. In the survey, 43% of consumers reported that they were likely to change their shopping behavior and another 32% said that it was possible they would change. 65% were somewhat or highly influenced to increase their online shopping (which is understandable, since many of the security breaches involved physical brick-and-mortar stores). Consumers were more than twice as likely to be worried about their security at big businesses then they were at small ones, and 41% of customers were planning to shop mainly at small businesses. Although security breaches are bad news for large companies, they are good news for small ones, since cyber-attacks drive consumers towards smaller stores.
Of course, many of these customers expect the same level of service that they received at big businesses to be present at the small ones. Customers are expecting mobile options and professional services from small business websites, and many of these sites are complying. 60% of customers rated the professionalism of small business sites highly, and those that are not well-designed are likely to fall behind.
Web Host Benefits
Although this move toward small business online shopping is good news for local companies, it’s also good news for web hosting services. A whopping 78% of consumers who were going to shop at small businesses planned to shop online, which means that traffic to these sites is going to increase for 2015. The potential for financial gain is significant as long as companies respond correctly.
Will this trend continue? Customers will always be driven towards more secure sites, but whether small businesses can remain secure is an open question. Companies that benefit from cyber-attacks on larger retailers can grow themselves and become targets for hackers. In order to avoid falling prey to the same attacks as these big companies have, smaller businesses should be making improvements right now to ensure that their own sites are safe and convenient for customers.
First of all, websites should be prepared for the increased traffic. If a sudden influx of visitors crashes a business’s site, then the company will lose money while it’s down and can potentially alienate customers. As mobile devices become more and more common and shopping on these devices increases, small businesses and web hosting services need to be prepared to tailor the site so that it can handle the influx.
Also, small business websites absolutely must be secure. Since privacy and security concerns are currently driving customers to smaller retailers, they will also be one of the things that keep them there. Many consumers will bolt as soon as they feel unsafe. Also, a security breach can significantly cost a company and may even end up putting them out of business. This is why enhanced security features are absolutely essential. Some of the most important changes to make are:
- Training employees on how to avoid threats
- Keeping software completely up to date
- Secure encryption of sensitive information
- Ensuring that physical hardware is protected
- Using strong passwords
- Installing antimalware software
Finally, small businesses should ensure that they have sufficient storage space to handle increased online traffic. Without enough storage, a website might run slowly or crash altogether, which can seriously hurt a company’s sales and bottom line. Web hosts should take step to ensure that their clients have adequate space for their websites.
During the holiday shopping season, convenience is drawing many consumers to online shopping, while security and privacy concerns are driving more and more of these shoppers to the websites of small businesses. As the Web.com survey shows, smaller retailers can expect an increase in sales (and their web hosts can expect an increase in traffic) due to cyber-attacks. If these businesses are unable to offer a secure shopping experience, however, they’ll eventually lose customers just like bigger retailers did. To take full advantage of this opportunity, small businesses and their web hosts should take steps to ensure that their websites are up for the challenge—companies that are prepared have nothing to fear.
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