Are we still ‘a nation of shopkeepers’?

Marketing and brand

16 February 2016

Napoleon is commonly credited with calling the English ‘a nation of shopkeepers’. The description was not meant to be flattering; it was intended as a slight at England’s preparedness for war rather than any contempt for shopkeepers.

Britain in the 19th century was indeed a nation of shopkeepers and its rich history of successful commerce has continued to this day. Some aspects of being a small business owner will never change, such as the need to be self-motivated, have a good understanding of business and finance and be willing to work long, unsociable hours. Being a successful business owner also requires some industry know-how to create a safe and suitable working environment for you and your employees; from following the latest government safety regulations to having employers’ liability insurance in the event of an accident.

However, while face-to-face interactions in a bricks and mortar store may have been the foundation of a successful business in the past, changing times and technologies have altered the way business owners now work and the knowledge they need. Have a look our top tips on how to bring your retail business up to speed:


A recent study found 60% of small businesses still don’t have a website. Even for businesses that primarily work offline, such as shopkeepers, it is crucial to make your business as accessible as possible, and having a website is part of that. This doesn’t mean you have to pay for an expensive website that allows online booking or ecommerce transactions if your business doesn’t need it. Simply ensure the site contains relevant and up to date information about your business.

Google Business

Over 85% of UK web searches are conducted on Google. So if someone Googles your business, you want the correct information to appear in the results. By registering your business with Google, you ensure information about your business, your address and opening hours appear on the search results page, with links to reviews and Google Maps so customers can find you.


While a website is a vital tool for you to promote your products and services, the number of mobile users is ever-increasing, with 76% of adults in the UK now owning smartphones. Although having a mobile-friendly site will be enough for most SMEs, more and more small business owners are opting for apps with benefits including increased customer engagement, loyalty and obtaining more information about customers than you would from a traditional website.

Social media

Having a social media presence allows businesses to increase brand awareness, find new customers and create meaningful relationships with customers. It also allows you to direct customers towards your website. 81% of SMEs are now using social media , making it more important than ever for businesses to establish a social presence.

There are many channels available, such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or YouTube to name just a few. If you think it’d be too time consuming for you to have a presence on all channels and do them well, decide what channels are best for your business and concentrate on them. 

So what’s your view? Are we a nation of shopkeepers? Let us know in the comments below or find out more about AXA’s shop and retail insurance.