A woman wearing a black face mask looks at an item of clothing in a clothing store.

Small business recovery in the United Kingdom

When the Coronavirus pandemic hit, we knew that there was going to be an unprecedented downturn in business across most of our major sectors. We’ve been closely monitoring how our small business owners have been affected, particularly very small businesses that don’t have access to a financial lifeline.

The eight sectors we’ve been following are: medical services, outdoor markets, catering and delivery, grocery, professional services, cafes and restaurants, apparel, and beauty and barber services. 

The data we’ve collected gives us a look at how sectors across our key European markets (Germany, France, UK, Italy) are recovering now that social distancing rules are starting to relax and businesses are reopening. 

Our numbers indicate how things might develop in each country as they emerge from lockdown, with positive trends in mainland Europe that bode well for the United Kingdom. 

How did we make our predictions?

Our real-time data gives a quantitative analysis of the impact of the lockdown on very small to medium-sized businesses. We looked at the weekly percentage change in relation to pre-lockdown expected transaction totals. 

We created our expectations based on historic weekly growth rates – and used those figures to see what stage countries were at in terms of business recovery.

From lockdown to opening doors

Across our key European markets, lockdown restrictions were put into place throughout March. Thankfully, the spread of the virus slowed and we saw businesses being allowed to reopen across Europe. 

  • Italy began their lockdown on March 11th, before opening small non-essential shops such as book stories from April 14th, followed in early May by the reopening of restaurants and bars providing takeaway services. 

  • France’s lockdown started on March 17th, easing restrictions in specific areas on May 11th, but maintaining stricter rules in hotspots like Paris. 

  • Germany went into lockdown on March 22nd – opening smaller retail shops from April 20th, followed by restrictions on all shops being lifted in early May (with masks and social distancing still in place). 

  • The UK was the last of our four key markets to enforce lockdown on March 23rd. From June 1st, certain open-air businesses and markets were allowed open, followed by a mass reopening of businesses across a number of sectors on June 15th. 

Sector recovery so far

As you can see on our recovery barometer, some sectors are already seeing more transactions than in our other key European markets – and there are stand out trends across other sectors that could mean great things for business recovery in the UK. 

Medical Services

After the lockdown, businesses such as chiropractors, pharmacies, and massage therapists saw a sharp dip in transactions – dropping by more than 80% in mid-March. 

By early April, the sector started to recover, with German businesses almost reaching projected transaction counts at levels expected before the pandemic. 

Outdoor Markets

This sector showed a surprising resilience throughout the lockdown – with businesses adapting to the situation by introducing curbside delivery and accepting contactless payments. 

SumUp’s Payment Links service helped our merchants maintain income and social distancing, by allowing them to take card payments no matter where their customers were. 

After the lifting of lockdown restrictions in Germany, this sector has seen a particularly strong recovery. The United Kingdom saw a significant number of people in this sector adopting contactless payment options, particularly since the payment limit was increased to £45.

Catering and Delivery

There was a sharp drop in transactions following the lockdown, but similarly to outdoor markets, this sector managed to adapt their business models to cope with the crisis. The fall in transactions lasted for around two weeks from the beginning of the UK lockdown, before bouncing back.


Due to an increase in online transactions as more people started to order their supermarket shops online, the grocery sector was the only one to see a rise in transactions. 

The increase was most notable in Italy – while in the UK, after a small drop in sales towards the end of March, sales picked up again directly after. 

Looking forward

As the situation improves, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the continued growth across all of our markets, to make sure we’re aware of any significant trends – and to keep our predictions as accurate as possible.

We’re continuing to look for new ways for small businesses to be successful by working on new products and services that make it easier to take payments and do business in even the most unpredictable of climates.

Callum Conway