I’ve been reviewing data from our latest survey, the 2011 SMB Routes to Market Study, which zeros in on how SMBs discover, learn about, evaluate and purchase software and service technology solutions.

This study was a refresh of our 2010 SMB Routes to Market Study. In both years, we asked customers, “Do you use/plan to use business app stores or marketplaces (e.g. Salesforce AppExchange, Intuit Workplace, etc.)?” As shown below (Figure 1), 28% of small businesses are using app stores. The good news is that this is up from 23% last year.

Figure 1: Small Business Use and Plans: Business App Stores and Marketplaces

This year, we also asked respondents how frequently they use app stores. As you can see, only 6% of small businesses use them on a regular basis–which pales in comparison to the 42% that use search engines regularly–and also falls far short compared to sources such as email newsletters; colleagues, friends and family; vendor web sites, and Facebook–among other things.

In this 2011 survey, 17% medium businesses (100-999 employees) indicated that they use app stores on a regular basis, which may mean that as businesses get larger, and their integration requirements increase, app stores provide more value.

Source: SMB Group 2011 (click to enlarge)

App stores focused on the needs of small and medium businesses (SMBs) have been proliferating quickly. Some of the SMB-focused app stores that have set up shop include:

  • Intuit’s Workplace App Center, which provides a central location where small businesses can locate and try business applications that work with QuickBooks and with each other.
  • Google Apps Marketplace, which offers Google users apps that integrate directly with Google Apps.
  • Zoho’s Marketplace, which provides applications that work with Zoho’s solutions.
  • Constant Contact Marketplace, which offers small businesses with applications that integrate with Constant Contact’s email and marketing tools.
  • GetApp.com, which, unlike most app marketplaces, isn’t organized around a core application or platform, but positions itself as a neutral, “meta-marketplace” that is application and platform agnostic.

There are also many business app stores that aren’t exclusively focused on SMBs, but feature plenty of apps relevant to SMB requirements, such Salesforce.com’s AppExchange and Sugar CRM’s SugarExchange

Theoretically, these sites should make it easier for users to find, try, evaluate and purchase applications. But our study analysis suggests that app stores will need to do more to live up to their promise of becoming a premier and potentially disruptive SMB information and purchase channel.