Small Businesses Embracing New Technologies
The past 90-plus days have been challenging for so many, but in particular small businesses, as they navigate the COVID-19 business landscape, faced with business disruption, managing a remote workforce, and financial hardship.
The impact COVID-19 has had on small businesses is real. For example, according to a recent Verizon Business survey, conducted by Morning Consult, of 500 small and midsized business (SMB) owners and decision makers, 78 percent of businesses experienced declining sales as a result of the pandemic. Furthermore, many have reduced employees' hours (61 percent) or reduced wages of business leaders (45 percent).
What’s the good news? Despite all the various challenges, many small businesses have found ways to weather the storm and now feel a sense of optimism as they look to reopen and move to the next phase of recovery.
A Renewed Sense of Optimism
One of the nationwide survey’s key findings is that 68 percent of small business owners feel a renewed sense of optimism that they can recoup COVID-19-related losses. Based on these results, and the optimism we're hearing from many of our small business customers, I'm encouraged as our customers are expressing a resounding sense of resilience for a better future.
So, what does the future look like for small businesses, specifically those in retail?
Most Retail Owners Believe They Can Reopen, With Similar Staffing
The survey indicated that 60 percent of retail owners believe they will reopen without having to cut staff, and 64 percent will look to increase cash reserves, showcasing the overall financial wherewithal to reopen successfully. The recent survey results show signs of hope and a transition toward leveraging technology as more retail businesses adjust to a new normal.
The pandemic has affected a variety of small businesses, and retail owners are seeing the effects especially as statewide restrictions are easing nationwide. As more small businesses forge into a new normal of managing remote employees, deciphering rules and regulations surrounding opening and venue capacity, and overcoming the overall downturn in the economy, they're also discovering innovative new ways to boost the bottom line. For example, retail owners developed new ways of operations and product innovation, as 56 percent said they expect to expand through digital and related technology, according to the survey. With a willingness to implement new technologies, owners are setting the stage for the future of the retail space.
Adopting Future-Ready Technologies
With small businesses looking to expand and adapt the use of new technologies, the question remains: How can they implement these solutions positively to affect their employees and bottom line? Whether it’s through applying new touchless options or other virtual offerings, keeping customers safe is crucial in this new retail environment. Implementing new technologies needs to be seamless for the customer, and many trends are gaining traction. They include the following:
- Contactless Retail Experiences: Eager shoppers will soon be able to return to their local retail stores in person as states continue to roll back stay-at-home orders. To keep shoppers safe and reduce the spread of germs, many retail stores are implementing touchless checkout points that reduce transaction times and allow for contactless payments or payment ahead of time. This allows customers to browse and pre-pay through an app or website prior to visiting or departing the store.
- Extended Reality (Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality): Virtual and augmented reality offer retailers several ways to enhance the customer experience. From browsing products to virtually “trying them on,” extended reality is already in use by retailers today. In the future, extended reality will eventually enable consumers to share their VR and AR shopping experiences with others.
- Voice Technology: Many retailers have turned to digital kiosks and touchscreens in recent years to help shoppers find what they need, and these businesses are now looking at ways to make those same devices touchless. With customers hesitant to touch directory screens or ask sales associates for help, retailers are pivoting to a voice-activated experience.
Now that the initial shock of the pandemic has passed, many small businesses are focusing on the future by investing in new ways to adjust to the new work-from-home model, optimize revenue, and find ways to succeed in the new business as usual — all with a sense of optimism and resilience that will help us get going during this next phase of recovery.
TJ Fox is the president of Verizon Business Markets, a division that serves small and midsize businesses.