Business Essentials
But 40% Struggle To Market their Site

But 40% Struggle To Market their Site


We're launching Alignable’s Guide To Boosting Your Online Sales -- and we know you'll be excited about both the tips and tools we've uncovered.

But before I send you off to see that, let's look at snapshots of data we collected by polling 6,210 of you over the past few months.

Similar to past guides we've produced, this one is based on the needs you've all expressed to us via the surveys. This way, we increase our chances of covering what most of you would like to see. (But after you've seen the guide, let us know if we missed anything),  

So, let's dive into the statistics and key learnings that formed the basis of this exciting new guide.

The first fascinating insight is that 71% of you told us that a big part of your business comes from online sales. Along with that 35% of you said online sales are critical to your business.

That's all very encouraging to see, especially since online-generated revenues played a big role in saving many businesses over the past 2.5 years. (Translation: If you're in that 71%, you are crushing it and grabbing hold of a trend that has enormous growth potential).

Small Businesses Need A Website To Stay Competitive

To help preserve your brand and your business, regardless of your sector, you need some sort of online presence to attract new customers "googling" for businesses that specialize in what you do. We know that's true here at Alignable, and many poll takers mentioned it, as well.

Beyond that, for the convenience of your customers, not to mention your bottom line, you should have a really consumer-friendly e-commerce section of your site.

While many of you have some sort of site and some kind of e-commerce element on it,  I want to speak to the 19% who don't have a website yet (another interesting finding).

I know, many of you said you're working on it and we wholeheartedly applaud that effort. But the reality is -- the longer you don't have a site, the more money your competitors with sites will take away from you.

71% Already Sell Online, But What's Up With The Others?

In our poll of 2,770 small business owners, we asked, "Is selling online a big part of your business now?" As we noted, the majority said, "Yes."  But others weren't so sure.

  • 38% said, "Yes, it sure is."
  • 33% said, "Yes, but I have off-line sales, too."
  • 7% said, "No, my customers love in-person shopping."
  • 9% said, No, online doesn't make sense for my business."
  • 4% said, "Wish it was a big part of my biz. Scared to try."
  • 9% said, "Sales are low online or off."

So, for 20% of the 29% who are not benefiting from significant online sales, there's a big opportunity for them to integrate e-commerce into their businesses and their lives. Doing this alone could really help them fight inflation (the No. 1 issue for small business owners now) and give their business a needed boost.

Now that you've seen these statistics, let's look at the variety of comments our poll takers shared.

Just looking at these quotes will paint quite a diverse picture of what's really going on out there regarding online and in-store sales, as well as other thoughts about setting up websites or perfecting them so they generate more sales and/or traffic.

"Establishing online sales will be my focus this year."

"I'm re-structuring my business to reach a level at least 50% of sales online."

"I am a bookkeeper, so my business is 100% online."

"I wish I had online sales. I'm having trouble setting up the site."

"Still trying to get my website done!"

"I offer service work and do a lot of in-person sales. But I'd like to offer online services, as well."

"I do get emails & calls from prospective customers visiting our website, but not all turn into sales."

"I do have some online sales, but most of my business is done speaking on the phone and in-person."

"We have a great online presence, but mostly in-store sales. Shoppers like to shop."

"Half of my customers like remote service, the other half want in-person help."

"I am a pre-need funeral planner. I need personal contact, or to talk to clients by phone to discuss such a serious topic."

"I have a Facebook page, which brings me a few sales here and
there.  I've tried Facebook Marketplace, and Etsy, but had no sales there

"I'm incapable of running an online presence. I've tried and failed several times in the last six years."

Special thanks to those who participated in the poll and offered these comments. They really say cover the gamut of sentiment around websites and the balance between online and offline sales.

But we figured we'd dig a bit deeper in the poll to see just how much COVID and forced shutdowns contributed to online sales.

What we found was no surprise. But it was still gratifying to see many businesses pivot and use online sales as a life preserver (and a new, ongoing revenue stream) for their businesses.

COVID Kicked Online Sales Into Gear

I created this handy dandy chart to highlight the lift online sales have had, comparing 2019 to 2022. This was based on two questions asking about the percentage of online sales small businesses experienced before COVID vs. how much they're earning so far this year.

Overall, now in 2022, the majority (55%) of small business owners say that they earn half or more of their income from online sales.

That's 12 percentage points higher than the 43% who earned half or more of their income online prior to the pandemic.

It's also interesting to see a shift in the lower percentages.

Only 36% now say they're earning less than 50% of their income online. Three years ago, that figure was eight percentage points higher at 44%.

Finally, the percentage of people who say they didn't sell online in 2019 (6%) is literally half that today, down three percentage points.

The progression toward more people selling online is a hopeful sign for the small business economy, since online sales tend to be more cost-effective than traditional in-person sales, partially due to the high rent charged for offices, storefronts, and restaurants.

Beyond all of this, our poll also looked at the percentage of members selling their goods on one of the main retail sites vs. generating most or all of their sales from their own online shops.

45% Have Not Sold Anything On Retail Sites

Much to our surprise, almost half of those polled (45%), said they have yet to sell anything on some of the sites many small businesses use to promote their goods.

Here's the rundown examining results for several popular marketplaces:

Facebook Marketplace came in first place with 33% of our members selling  their wares there.

After that, Etsy was a distant second at 21%, followed by Shopify in third place at 18%, eBay in fourth place with 16%, and finally Amazon with just 11% of our members selling on that behemoth.

The big takeaway here comes back to that 45% number -- this means there's a huge opportunity for members who are selling online to sample these retail sites, and likely others, to see what might work to help enhance their online sales efforts.

Based on this data, if you haven't tried selling on any of these sites yet, start with Facebook Marketplace and see how that goes.

One of the reasons we'd like to see more members take advantage of Facebook Marketplace and those other sites is that we also have heard from them that they've encountered many challenges selling online. (And, of course, we'd like to help them jump those hurdles).

Top Challenges For Small Businesses Selling Online

Through this poll, we learned what is most challenging about selling online.

And while around 17% said they don't need any help selling online, nearly 80% said they could definitely use a hand.  

Chart from Alignable poll of online sellers' biggest challenges

The No. 1 hurdle to jump was knowing how to effectively market their online business, and the second, most-mentioned obstacle was how to sell using social media.

After that, other challenges included learning the right skills to build a presence online and then finding the right places to sell online (such as the retail sites listed above).

Rounding out the remaining challenges, some were having trouble accessing enough product (and the right product mix) to sell online, hiring staff that could help both in-store and online, and finally, figuring out how to build a website in the first place. (Again, sometimes it all comes down to a simple solution -- build that site if you haven't yet, please...:).

That serves as a perfect segue to a quick snapshot of the most interesting results from our sister survey that focused specifically on websites.

The Skinny On Sites & Those Without Them

We found several insights asking 3,440 members about their feelings surrounding websites.

Right off the bat, we learned that 81% have websites, and, as I noted before, unfortunately, 19% do not.

Alignable chart -- Do you have a site for your business -- 81% said yes, 19% said no

So, for the 19% without sites, we asked, "Are you interested in creating a website for your business?"  

As you can see below, the answers to that question alone showed quite a range of sentiments from one extreme -- those who just don't think they need a site -- to those who want all the help they can get creating one and then managing it the best way possible.

Alignable poll results on whether people without sites want to build them or have them constructed by a software engineer

Here's the snapshot:  

  • 17% said they want a site, but want to build it themselves.
  • 23% want a site, but believe a professional website builder should design and build it.
  • 9% or so said they want a professional to build it and they want to hire someone else to manage it.

But this poll took a strange turn at this point, showing us just how many small business owners on our platform question whether they should even have a website.

  • Some 19% insisted that they don't need one.
  • 22% said they're not sure.
  • That adds up to 41% who really aren't sold on having a website.

Offering just a little more perspective here, over the years, we have heard from many Alignable members that they use their Alignable profile as the home base for their online presence, as they can do a lot with it and it connects them to many peers who can help them and their businesses.  Perhaps that's why the percentage of those without sites -- who aren't really sure they need them -- is as high as it is.

Now, before we end this summary of the polls, we want to come back to the 81% of members who actually have a site, and whether or not they think they should update it, upgrade it or otherwise improve it.

52% With Sites Think They're Fine & Need No Improvement

Among those who have sites, we found more than half of that group either considered their sites perfect as they are or thought they were fine, because customers seem to like them.

Graph of how many like their site vs. who just wants to help

Another 12% said it was hard to say what they thought of their site, but that it was a pain to update. (A complaint we heard a lot in the comments, as well).

And another 27% of those polled came right out and said they don't like their site and want to improve it.

So there's another great opportunity for the website builders and designers reading this report. Nearly one-third of those with sites on Alignable (and in the small business community, in general) want help making their site better.

Given that we have 7 million members on Alignable and 30 million small business owners coast to coast, that desire to improve sites could add up to a lot of money for the 9,500+ website designers on Alignable.

Taking The Next Steps: The Guide, Webinar & Group

That concludes our summary of the highlights from these two surveys. We hope you found the results interesting.

More important, we want you to take advantage of the resources that were created based on the polls' insights to help your e-commerce activity (and sales) skyrocket.

With that said, here are a few next steps we suggest:

Thanks so much for reading.

And please feel free to post your thoughts about websites and e-commerce in the comment section below.

About The Author

Chuck Casto

Head of Corporate Communications & News

As Head of PR & a former SMB owner himself, Chuck Casto is a small business crusader. He’s deeply invested in letting national media and social influencers know what’s really happening on Main Street. From promoting our polls, to running contests celebrating member achievements, to writing advice columns, Chuck's one of our chief storytellers. Before Alignable, he led branding, PR & social campaigns for companies from Haagen-Dazs to Harley-Davidson & Wendy’s to Wayfair. Prior to PR, Chuck was a TV reporter in NY, and an editor for local Gannett newspapers. Chuck holds a B.A. from Brown & an M.S.J. from Northwestern.