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Awareness of the retail water market among SMEs remains low, according to new Populus research

In April 2017, the largest competitive retail water market in the world opened for business. However, awareness of this remains low among SMEs. Populus research commissioned by The Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) finds that only 2 out of 5 (41%) of non-household customers think they can switch water provider.

CCWater is the water watchdog, offering customers free advice and support on every aspect of water and sewage services. In July 2017, the first of its surveys to date was carried out, finding low levels of awareness of the retail water market among SMEs. This latest research confirms that awareness has not grown much since.

Overall, medium-sized companies are more likely to have acted than sole traders, micro and small businesses.

Tony Smith, Chief Executive of CCWater, said:

“Customer awareness increased significantly ahead of the market opening but in the past year it appears to have hit a brick wall and that really concerns us.”

“We know that once small businesses are aware they have a choice they are interested in exploring their options but at the moment too many are being sold short by a lack of awareness and information.”

What about those who are aware?

Among SMEs that were aware of competition, almost half (45%) had looked for information and a quarter had taken steps to switch supplier. Nearly a third (31 per cent) said they intended to switch in the next six months.

Larger businesses continue to be more active in exploring their choices with medium-sized businesses (50-249 employees) around twice as likely as micro businesses (fewer than 10 employees) to have looked for market information, switched or negotiated a better deal.

Our research finds that the larger the organisation, the more likely they are to take action in the next 6 months of having learnt of the change to the water market.

What Next

CCWater will be renewing its own efforts to help raise awareness through working in partnership with influential representative bodies, including the Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and National Farmers’ Union. But the watchdog believes water retailers are best-placed to reach out to smaller businesses and help them understand how choice can benefit them.

Read the full Populus report published by CCWater here.

Populus unlocks the critical knowledge needed to better understand consumer behaviour and decisions when it comes to energy. Find out more about our Solutions or contact us on +44 [0]20 7253 9900.


CCWater commissioned Populus to carry out a series of online omnibus surveys of SMEs in England to gauge their awareness of the introduction of retail water competition. More than 500 online interviews were carried out during July 2017, January 2018 and August 2018. The samples cover a wide variety of sectors.


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