2020 was not kind to American small businesses as the COVID-19 pandemic punished Main Street. According to tracktherecovery.org, “as of December 30, 2020, the number of small businesses open decreased by 29.7 percent compared to January 2020.” Yelp estimated at the end of August 2020 that nearly 100,000 small businesses had closed for good since the start of the pandemic.
Those small businesses that persevered into 2021, utilized technology and E-commerce solutions to stay afloat as lockdowns and COVID-19 social distancing instantly shifted a chunk of the economy online. Small businesses not only had to think outside of the box, but outside of the “brick and mortar”, as face-to-face transactions were no longer the norm. “Overnight, doing business in person was not really an option anymore, so everyone scrambled to get online,” said David Rusenko, head of e-commerce at mobile payments company Square, in a Washington Post article. “We saw a three-year adoption cycle get compressed to three weeks.” From Shopify to Zoom, small businesses turned to technology to survive.
Technological Tools Help Small Businesses Survive
There are few silver linings to a pandemic, but a small consolation is that businesses had technological tools at their fingertips to help transition online, many tools which were not available 20 years earlier. Consider that the iPhone was not launched until 2007, ushering in an era of apps and mobility for businesses.
Shopify, which helped small operations get online storefronts and E-commerce up and running, started in 2004, the same year as Facebook, which many local businesses use to connect with customers. Other technology, which came to be relied on by businesses, emerged in just the last decade such as FaceTime (2010) and Zoom (2011) for remote meetings; and delivery services such as Instacart (2012), DoorDash (2013) and UberEats (2014).
In response to the early wave of shutdowns when coronavirus first hit, small businesses coped by:
- Restaurants and businesses normally offering their product onsite, transitioned to curbside and delivery via apps
- Small shops that sold physical goods utilized E-commerce to offer items online
- Many businesses created websites for the very first time or updated older websites
- Those that could still offer items in-person found ways to offer contactless shopping, payments and pickup
- Individual providers, from dance instructors to financial analysts, shifted to online services
Staying Connected and Utilizing Updated Technology
Entrepreneur magazine in its “10-Point Small-Business Survival Plan for Dealing With the Coronavirus” not only emphasized that small businesses needed to stay connected to their customers, but they also needed to take advantage of updated remote work technology.
To keep connected, Entrepreneur recommended:
- Establish or enhance social media presence to keep customers in the loop
- Send online newsletters and emails to notify customers of changes being made and updates
Updated technology, such as VPNs, was needed for remote work. “Hopefully, you aren’t on an old-school server and have your key software and company functions in the cloud,” Mark J. Kohler wrote in Entrepreneur. “If you are on a server, you will need to set up VPNs for employees to access their work computers from their home computers. If you are on the cloud, this is much easier (Gmail/Google, Outlook 365, Salesforce, most modern CRMs, etc.).”
Study Shows Digital is Here to Stay
There is no turning back the technological tide that has taken place in the last year. The “Visa Back to Business Study – 2021 Outlook” found that the shift towards digital commerce will continue to evolve.
The study found that, “The overall pivot to a digital-first mindset has only accelerated since it became a noticeable trend in the first edition of the study. In summer 2020, just 27 percent of SMBs had begun selling online for the first time due to the pandemic. Now, 43 percent are actively engaged in selling products online, and of those, 87 percent plan to continue over the next three months, according to the current phase of research.”
Besides selling products online, the study found small businesses coping with the pandemic by other new changes such as:
- Accepting contactless payments (39 percent)
- Social media advertising (38 percent)
- Digitizing business functions (30 percent)
Perhaps the best news from the study is that small business survivors are optimistic about 2021 with 82 percent “optimistic about the future of their business.”
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