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Our research identified three categories of SMEs, based on how they characterized the pre-pandemic importance of digital tools to their business operations, and their actual use of digital tools entering the pandemic. Advanced SMEs place a high importance on digital tools and use many of them, while Uncertain SMEs do not. A third group, Evolving SMEs, is at various stages of transformation between the other two.

Advanced SMEs outperformed their Uncertain counterparts for a range of financial and operational business metrics during the pandemic: sales, revenue, maintaining their customer base, and hiring new employees. They have also been more aggressive in investing in new tools and training during the pandemic. In Sweden, we found an above-average number of Advanced SMEs (+6% vs. the Europe-wide average), and a slightly below-average number of Uncertain SMEs (-1%), with a somewhat below-average percentage of them in a transformational state.

Not all SMEs who use digital tools are the same. On average, sole owner/ operators or women-led SMEs had an especially challenging time if Uncertain, but found outsized benefits if they were Advanced. Not all digital tools are equally helpful to European SMEs, either. E-commerce, data analytics, and employee management and collaboration tools conferred more competitive advantage on the SMEs using them.

Digitally Uncertain SMEs in Sweden
vs 18% Europe
  • Use fewer digital tools, don’t prioritize their importance
  • Worse business outcomes such as lower revenue
  • Little transformation, innovation, and resilience
36% in various stages of transformation in Sweden (40% of Europe)

Increased deployment of the Digital Safety Net

Digitally Advanced SMEs in Sweden
vs 42% Europe
  • Use more digital tools and prioritize their importance
  • Better business outcomes such as lower revenue
  • Increased transformation, innovation, and resilience

Digitally Driven: Sweden – By the Numbers

Sweden’s SMEs feel relatively high comfort levels with digital tools, and those ‘advanced’ SMEs deploying them well had significantly better revenue and did more hiring than less-advanced peer SMEs.

Pre-Pandemic: In addition to slightly above-average Advanced SMEs, 75% of all of Sweden’s SMEs felt comfortable using digital tools in their business, a remarkable 14% higher than the Europe-wide average.

During the Pandemic:  While SMEs generally reported revenue losses, Sweden’s Advanced SMEs (-8% revenue) significantly outperformed (2.5X) their Uncertain counterparts (-20%).

Advanced SMEs also hired 11.6X more new employees than Uncertain SMEs (11.6 vs. 1.0). These two differentials are evidence of the Digital Safety Net at work.

Finally, 80% of Sweden’s SMEs increased digital tool use during the pandemic, same as the Europe-wide average.

Digital Concerns: Swedish SMEs have several concerns about adoption of new digital tools. Their top concerns are: protecting data privacy (26%, +1% over Europe-wide average); cost of tools (22%, -1%); uncertainty about return on investment (21%, -6%); and that digital tools won’t work with current apps/ services (21%, +3%).

Post-Pandemic Planning: Looking to the future, a majority (57%) of Sweden’s SMEs (7% above the Europe-wide average) plan to use more digital tools after the pandemic.

Digitally Driven: Sweden – Impact on Europe

SMEs embracing and utilizing the Digital Safety Net will have benefits far beyond the current pandemic.

The ability for SMEs to adapt, survive, and recover from disruptions, and press their competitive advantage during good times, is both valuable to them and benefits the broader economy. SMEs who do not, however, remain more vulnerable to disruptions and are more at risk of closing. Thus, getting more SMEs to take advantage of the Digital Safety Net is good for them, consumers, and the economy as a whole.

Based on our research and publicly available government data, we asked, what would the economic effect be of transforming just the Uncertain SMEs into Advanced ones (there are roughly 4.5 million Uncertain SMEs in Europe, and about 121k in Sweden)?

Roughly, that could generate 262.2€ billion additional sales (0.91% of European total), 67.4€ billion economic value added (0.93% of European total), and 3.76 million jobs (2.59% of European total employment). In Sweden specifically, this is an estimated 8.8€ billion additional sales, 2.5€ billion economic value added, and 604,446 jobs.

You can see the Sweden report here

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