France is lagging far behind in the field of the digital transition of companies. The DESI Index, which measures each year the progress of the Member States in this area, gives France a mediocre 42/100, ie one point above the European average. A score without comparison with the digital potential of the country, still largely under-exploited.
A growth factor, digital technology has become an essential tool
Studies conducted among business leaders highlight a significant correlation between the integration of digital tools and the growth in turnover of organizations. A 2019 survey by publisher Otaxis reveals that a company with an e-commerce site can expect a 14% increase in turnover. The relevance of an omnichannel strategy is now indisputable. This combines the physical store and its traditional catchment area with the force of digital technology. A factor of economic growth in “normal times”, digital technology is a vector of resilience in a health context which imposes constraints and restrictions. An essential palliative which allows to keep a relative independence vis-à-vis state aid which, for many entrepreneurs, remains temporary and probably insufficient.
According to ACSEL’s annual barometer, 68% of growing companies in 2020 recognize the contribution of digital to their good economic health. But the health crisis has seriously affected their transformation projects: 43% of the companies surveyed say that they had to slow down their digital development because of the health crisis.
A capacity delay which, in the heart of the crisis that concerns us, is an additional burden for companies whose perverse effects will certainly be felt when the restrictions are lifted. This crisis has been, is and will be an opportunity for many French people to integrate online commerce into their behavior. This is particularly true for seniors, whose uses and difficulties have not yet been resolved through online commerce. Fear of the virus forced them to take the plunge, often helped by relatives and caregivers. A habit that they will probably keep after the lifting of sanitary measures and the resumption of “the normal course of things”. If retailers fail to capture these new users of online commerce, they will naturally turn to the American giants who have largely taken advantage of the context to assert their dominant position in e-commerce.
Persistent brakes despite the democratization of costs
The creation of e-commerce sites by small businesses, an area in which France is once again seriously behind schedule, has yet become widely democratized. New entrants have disrupted the market and are now able to offer cheaper services that are accessible to everyone, even those who have no skills in website creation. Among other players, Hubside, one of the French market leaders, allows the creation of a professional site for 25 euros per month. SoLocal offers equivalent services for sixty euros per month. New players have also used their digital skills to offer free marketplace services at local, national or European level for traditional commerce. However, if the market has benefited greatly from the crisis to structure itself, it has not yet achieved the visibility necessary to promote its full development.
The companies questioned in the ACSEL annual study thus affirm, for 57% of them, that they lack the time to implement these digital projects. 46% consider that the cost of transformation is too high, 36% consider the transformation too complex to implement and 32% claim to lack in-house skills.
However, the costs of standing still will be much higher tomorrow than those of the investments required today. Because making your digital transition also means benefiting from competitive advantages and operational and economic efficiency gains. It is also the opportunity to export its products and services.
Public authorities’ action that must be better communicated
Even if the digital transition of small businesses has been the subject of particular care in the recovery plan, the mechanisms to support digitization are still little known and used. Thus, a SoLocal barometer indicates that 62% of companies are unaware that the State and the regions already offer financial aid measures.
It also emerges that 70% of companies are asking for government financial support for the creation of a website, an online appointment booking system, a digital quote mechanism or even a Click and Collect solution.
The FranceNum platform, launched at the end of 2018, has demonstrated its difficulty in making the digital transition more visible. Especially since, in its wake, were born a myriad of other public, private or semi-public initiatives, such as Les Digiteux, of the CCI, the Digitalometer of BPI France or Dia-numerique, carried by the MEDEF.
If all the lights are green for the digital transition of small businesses, it still comes up against the ignorance of the leaders who, in their great majority, yet seize its potential. Problem of unified communication first and digital culture, then. France must now align itself with the highest European standards. Like the Nordic countries, where digital technology has been an integral part of primary, secondary and university education for several years, allowing rapid acculturation of future heads of small businesses. In the end, small businesses, the most suffering from this crisis, must now seize all the interest they have in using existing digital levers to accelerate their growth.