Are websites a must-have for all retailers?

Aug 13, 2021

A new survey finds that 23 percent of small retailers do not have a website.

Asked why, the top answers were:

  • Social media satisfies all online business needs, 33 percent; 
  • We’ve never needed one, 32 percent;
  • We’ve focused on our niche, 29 percent;
  • Most of our customers don’t go online, 29 percent; 
  • Don’t have a large enough staff, 26 percent;
  • Don’t have money to build one, 26 percent;
  • Don’t know how to create/run a website, 24 percent;
  • It’s a waste of time, 21 percent.

The survey from, which provides reviews for website tools, was taken in early May and featured 1,250 small retailers (500 or fewer employees) across a range of channels.

A survey of 500 smaller businesses from last December from Top Design Firms, an online directory, found that 28 percent of respondents have no website. Limited resources were found to present challenges in building and maintaining websites. Almost half (46 percent) of those with websites have in-house employees doing web management and 32 percent use DIY website builders to create a basic website. Only about one-third (34 percent) partner with an agency.

The recent surveys did indicate possible progress relative to a 2019 survey of 529 small businesses from Visual Objects, a website design directory, that found 40 percent of small businesses chose not to invest in a website.

Of those without websites, 28 percent said a website is irrelevant to their company’s needs. Visual Objects said these companies tend to leverage their personal networks and traditional marketing strategies, such as email and PR, to generate business. Other reasons not to have a website included cost, cited by 23 percent, and being able to use social media for web presence, 13 percent.

The Visual Objects survey likewise found about half of those with websites (52 percent) keeping maintenance in-house. The top-three challenges were identified as low website traffic, cited by 19 percent; competition, 19 percent; and lack of time/knowledge for website maintenance, 15 percent.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are there legitimate reasons for smaller retailers to go without a website? What advice would you have about overcoming the common obstacles to both building and maintaining a website?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Today’s websites are like business cards, every business needs to have one."
"With more consumers shopping online now than ever before, websites can make or break brands."
"With 80 percent+ of people searching on the web for what they need to solve problems, any business that doesn't maintain a presence on the web is basically invisible."

Join the Discussion!

33 Comments on "Are websites a must-have for all retailers?"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Dick Seesel

Not having a website today is like having a storefront where your windows are covered and your lights are off. I understand that not every retail business (including restaurants) has the desire or capacity to conduct e-commerce or fill orders online for food delivery services. But even something as simple as a Facebook page provides vital information to customers when they are looking for it.

To the tech troglodytes who think this is a waste of time: Would you consider a listing of your address, store hours and phone number to be worthwhile if people still used the phone book? Is this bare minimum of information any different, just because the nature of search has changed?

David Naumann

For almost all retailers, even a small one-store operation, a website is a valuable investment for brand visibility and promotion on local community websites. Even if you don’t sell anything on the website, it is a good source for information about your store. With easy to use website templates on many web services platforms, it is very simple to get a website up quickly and there isn’t a lot of maintenance. The use of social media as an alternative is a fairly good excuse, but some consumers aren’t on social media platforms.

Dick Seesel

You make a good point about social media, even though I mentioned Facebook in my comment. There is a nearby restaurant with a Facebook page but no website — and I’m not on Facebook, so I have no access to the menu or any other information.

Ben Ball

Maintaining a good website takes constant attention and updating. If a small retailer doesn’t have the resources to do it right they are better off not doing it at all. Bad websites frustrate consumers more than not finding one at all.

Lee Peterson

Every customer journey to a brand’s door starts on the web now. A website is no longer a “nice-to-have,” it’s essential. But e-commerce, which is harder to do, could come later. As a matter of fact, a website should be the first place you start, including e-commerce — THEN a store. Find out as much as possible before you go physical because, with the web, you can.

Dr. Stephen Needel

Even if it is a basic website – no ordering, no inventory, just a “here we are and here’s how go get ahold of us,” it’s a must. Websites have become the information operator from the days of old.

Jeff Sward

For almost anything a consumer needs these days, a web search is the new Yellow Pages. There was a time when the Yellow Pages were the simple go-to for starting a shopping or discovery journey. Now your phone and search engine of choice start that journey. I’m sure there are small businesses that will do fine without a website. And they will stay small and shrink in size and number over time if they don’t migrate to the web in some manner.

Neil Saunders

Some kind of online presence is sensible for retailers of all shapes and sizes. In the age of social media, I guess this doesn’t necessarily have to be a traditional web page, but given the very low cost of putting something simple up there I can’t see why anyone wouldn’t do this. As for the website being transactional, most retailers will benefit from this and for some it is absolutely critical. But it is not an absolute requirement for success. Trader Joe’s. Primark. Two retailers with no transactional online presence. Both extremely successful. The nice thing about retail is there are often exceptions to general rules!

Christine Russo

The most common reason a small business can’t or won’t do a website is because inventory tracking is too hard. Using a strong inventory management system, so that all of your information is corralled into one source of truth is a way to handle it.

If that’s still a “no go” then a small retailer should have a landing page. In my opinion, this is a must-have because it acts as a resource for the client to engage with and learn more about the retailer. It can be used to drive the client to the store or social media and it can be a place where the retailers tell their story and promote their values.

Cathy Hotka

There’s just no excuse not to have at least a brochure site. Cost is minimal and there’s no need for upkeep. Come on.

Ken Morris

Every retailer needs a website. It doesn’t need to be a commerce site, it can just be informational but it is a requirement to communicate to your customers. There are plenty of services available from self help to an agency and everything in between. My company ( has been working with the Boston Main Streets Foundation, the state of Massachusetts and Main Street America to offer low cost websites to restaurants and retailers. It has allowed these businesses to survive and thrive through this nightmare pandemic. We all need to pitch in to see a better tomorrow.

Gary Sankary

If there weren’t “winners” and “laggards” in retail, most of the analysts I follow wouldn’t have a ton of stuff to write about. Every success story needs an example of how “not to do it,” and coming up with poor excuses to not have an online presence is a great one of those examples.

Clearly not having a website today puts a retailer squarely in the “laggard” category. They are deciding to intentionally hide themselves from, I’d estimate, 99.9 percent of their new business. We know that nearly every customer starts their research for products or stores to shop online.

Today it’s very simple and very inexpensive to have an online presence. Even a simple Facebook page with phone numbers and opening times would be a better investment for these businesses than, say, Yellow Pages or whatever medium they’ve decided to use.

Georganne Bender

There is absolutely no reason for any retailer, regardless of size, not to have a website. If cost is an issue there are plenty of website builders like Wix that will let you create one for free.

Consumers use websites for more than just making a purchase. They are used for information gathering, checking store hours, checking class and event information, project sheets, etc. In our focus groups consumers have said they would rather read the answer to a question online than call the store and potentially be put on hold, transferred or given the wrong information. Today’s websites are like business cards, every business needs to have one.

David Spear

I get the fact that a small company may not want to invest hard earned dollars into a website, but to drive long term growth, brand affinity, and differentiated messaging, a website is ESSENTIAL. And as newer technologies start to proliferate and become more pervasive with shoppers (AI powered search, voice, ML algorithms), no site = LOST SALES. For those companies who are sitting on the fence and can’t make up their mind? Do it!

Harley Feldman

Not having a retailer website is like not being listed in the telephone book 10 years ago – it is very difficult to be found by new customers. Websites are very inexpensive to create with templates and are a minimal cost to host and maintain. A small business is putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage without a website. There is no excuse anymore not to have a website.

Rich Kizer

“in-house employees doing web management”? What happens when one of these employees gets mad at management and writes comments that are very hurtful to the business? We’ve seen it! When management doesn’t care about what is going on, a lot of bad stuff can go on. Today a website serves as a welcome invitation to the retailer’s “house” – come in and browse. That cannot hurt. If it changes on a regular basis, supporting managements goals and challenges, how can that hurt? I believe you get more points having a website than blinding customers to your store experience and products.

Raj B. Shroff

All businesses should have a website. It’s the first place people look for information about any entity. When a business doesn’t have one, it sends the wrong signals and casts doubt on its credibility.

My 11-year-old son can build a website. There are no hurdles in this day and age to building and maintaining a website.

Lisa Goller

Yes, being a web laggard is a legitimate choice for a dwindling percentage of small retailers. A small convenience store in a remote, rural town would likely rely on word-of-mouth for as long as possible.

Among the 40 percent of small businesses lacking a website in 2019, I wonder how many changed their mind during the pandemic – and how many folded.

For most web-resistant companies, I would say the investment in being found online with ease can more than cover the cost of a website. Choose user-friendly web templates to keep it simple. Most importantly, focus your content on your dream customers and how you’re better than your rivals at serving consumers’ needs.

Jeff Weidauer

Websites are a must-have for every business, not just for retailers. Social media is fine, but you don’t own the content or your followers, and you can be dropped at any time. Customers have an expectation of finding your business online – not having a website tells them you aren’t serious about what you do.

Richard Hernandez
Richard Hernandez
Merchant Director
1 year 3 months ago

There is a 100 percent need. A website is another storefront that people look at. Not having one is a loss of sales and these days, whether it’s through a Facebook page or an actual website, people have to be able to find you.

Peter Charness

Well, no one prints or reads the Yellow Pages anymore so not having a website is about the same as not having a phone number.

Ian Leslie

Similar to what others are saying, I don’t know why you wouldn’t have a website regardless of how small your store is. Even if it’s just to list your business hours and location. It frustrates me when a business’s top SERP result is its Facebook page. A Facebook page is not your website.

Chuck Ehredt

With 80 percent+ of people searching on the web for what they need to solve problems, any business that doesn´t maintain a presence on the web is basically invisible. Furthermore, even regular customers want an asynchronous channel to communicate with the brand, so allowing customers an easy way to ask if the brand is open on Sunday or has a product in stock can be powerful. Of course any business that doesn´t have a website today will not be reading these comments.

Rich Duprey

Agreed, they’re vital regardless of size. And when you do have one, a contact point is essential. There is nothing more infuriating than a business that offers no way to interact with it.

It’s probably more common with the tech giants that don’t feel they need to be responsive to their users, but I’ve come across a few retailers too who have at the very least buried their contact info to make it difficult to respond.

But yes, with so many people using the internet as their first form of interaction with a company, any retailer that doesn’t have a website probably won’t be in business very long anyway.