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Small Business News: 14 April 2023
Anna Thompson
Anna Thompson
Discover content team
3 min read
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This week’s SBN round-up includes a look at some of the ingenious tech used by UK retailers to combat shoplifting, and how Pinterest’s new e-commerce feature could help your business attract Gen Z.

European cross-border e-commerce tops €179 billion

Recent research has shown that the online European cross-border market generated €179.4 billion in 2022 (excluding travel)1 – an increase of 4.8% from 2021. While the market continues to grow, the increase was less than initially expected, due to the impact of lower consumer confidence and higher inflation.

Germany was the biggest cross-border market in 2022 at €34 billion (up by 5% from 2021), with the UK in second place – but the UK’s cross-border sales have decreased by 4% from 2021 to €28 billion.

Another interesting development was the noticeable drop in the number of multi-channel retailers among the strongest cross-border online performers, while the number of brand manufacturers grew. The biggest cross-border e-commerce category was Fashion, Jewelry and Baby items with a 39% share, followed by Home, Garden and DIY.

These highlights were taken from the latest ‘Top 500 Cross-Border Retail Europe’ report by Cross-border Commerce Europe2, which ranks the strongest players in European cross-border e-commerce.

UK retailers use tech to combat shoplifting

Shoplifting is a big problem for retailers with bricks-and-mortar stores – and the cost of living crisis is making it worse. In the latest British Retail Consortium Annual Crime Survey for 2022, 60% of retailers said theft poses the most significant threat to their businesses over the next two years3.

In the UK, retail companies of various sizes have started using technology to combat theft. The Sports Direct chain of sports and leisure goods stores has introduced Facewatch facial recognition technology, to identify shoplifters and potential offenders. Biometric cameras scan shoppers’ faces as they enter the store and check the images against those on a database of suspected criminals. Scans with no match are later erased from the system. If a match is found, the technology alerts in-store staff who decide what action to take. Positive scans are kept on a watchlist for a year and can be shared with other retailers using the Facewatch system.

While definitely ingenious, Facewatch and other similar systems are causing ethical concerns around civil liberties. Facial images count as personal data, so retailers must ensure they remain within data protection laws.

Another large UK retailer, Tesco supermarkets, has introduced wearable body cameras for staff in some stores in the UK and Ireland. If staff feel threatened, or suspect a theft or another illegal activity is about to happen, they start the camera recording. The body cams also serve as a visual deterrent to would-be criminals. Initially intended for security staff, they are now optional for other Tesco employees too.

On a smaller scale, Nisa, a London convenience store, has integrated Veesion AI software with its existing security cameras. The software monitors the shop’s security cameras to detect any suspicious customer behavior. The app constantly improves through staff feedback, as they dismiss or escalate alerts – so, for example, the AI has learned to distinguish between a customer putting their mobile phone away and putting an item in their pocket. Since adopting Veesion, Nisa’s shoplifting losses have dropped from £1,000 a week to just £100 a week.

Mind the B2B buying generation gap

The most recent annual Buyers’ Journey Survey by Forrester Research4 – with more than 20,000 respondents across 14 countries – has emphasized the difference between the buying behavior of older B2B buyers and younger ones.

And with the Boomer generation increasingly retiring from work and Millennials currently occupying 64% of B2B buying positions globally, providers who ignore the preferences of younger buyers stand to lose out heavily.

Just as when they’re shopping in their personal lives, Millennial and Gen-Z B2B buyers prefer self-service transaction channels and are pushing providers towards them, including external marketplaces, app stores, and vendor websites. This differs markedly from the more traditional behavior of older buyers.

For example, 35% of younger B2B buyers would use an enterprise app to make corporate purchases. By contrast, 24% of older buyers prefer to place orders with an inside sales representative – compared to just 19% of Millennial and Gen-Z buyers5.

Attitudes to researching potential purchases are also changing. Younger buyers value independent sources, such as technology information websites, forums and message boards, and industry websites, above vendor websites or conversations with sales reps.

All this means that, if you’re in B2B, you’ll need to align your sales, customer engagement and reputation programs with where your buyers go for information and to make purchases.

As Amy Hayes, Vice President and Research Director at Forrester, commented:

“Generational shifts in the workplace are turning the business buying process on its head.”

Twitter halves ads for Blue subscribers

Thinking about your next social media ad campaign? Here’s some news to bear in mind.

Twitter is rolling out an extra feature for Blue subscribers, only showing 50% of ads in their timelines compared to those of non-paying users6.

Twitter’s description of the ‘half-ads’ feature says: “As you scroll, you will see approximately twice as many organic or non-promoted Tweets placed in between promoted Tweets or ads. There may be times when there are more or fewer non-promoted Tweets between promoted Tweets.”

The feature will apply to the ‘Following’ and ‘For You’ timelines. However, it won’t apply to ads shown on the profile or in replies, promoted accounts and trends, and promoted events on the Explore page.

Looking to attract Gen Z? Shuffle over to Pinterest’s sister app

Pinterest’s collage-making app, Shuffles, has introduced an e-commerce feature. The platform, which allows creatively-minded users to curate and share mood boards using cut out images, has found a strong following amongst visually-driven Gen Z. With the new feature, users will be able to tap on the cutouts to view the brand, price, and other metadata, for a seamless shopping experience.

“Pinterest makes online shopping feel natural and fun because it’s a core experience on the platform,” said CEO, Bill Ready7. “As we continue to make it easier to shop what you see on Pinterest, we’re offering fresh new ways for consumers to browse, curate and discover products perfectly tailored to their taste.”

Pinterest itself already has a product pin e-commerce feature. The social platform enjoys an impressive five billion searches every month, with 85% of weekly users saying they’ve made a purchase after seeing branded pins8, so Shuffles’ new offering is something all e-commerce businesses should pay attention to.