There’s a reason why they call it “Main Street.” Small businesses have traditionally depended on foot traffic and a brick-and-mortar presence. But in the Internet age and especially in the age of COVID-19 businesses that leverage digital tools have a distinct competitive advantage. Unfortunately, only 46% of American small businesses have an online presence. We need to change that if we’re going to enable an inclusive economic recovery for our nation.
COVID-19 has unearthed a myriad of challenges for small businesses, from lack of capital access to strains on caregiving. But this pandemic has also shown how going digital isn’t just a “nice to have” for small business owners; it must be a core part of your business strategy. The fact is, as lockdowns extend or restart in communities across the country, small businesses that prioritize digital resilience will be better positioned to survive and thrive.
Fortunately, savvy small business owners are adapting to our new virtual reality. PayPal reported 1.7 million new merchant accounts in the second quarter of 2020, triple the amount it usually adds per quarter. A recent report from Facebook and Small Business Roundtable found that 79% of businesses have made changes to their operations to accommodate their customers during the pandemic—with 35% expanding the use of digital payments. Fifty-six percent of those that use online tools say that their business makes at least half of its sales digitally. As the struggle with COVID-19 continues, businesses that maximize online tools will fare better than those relying on traditional avenues for reaching customers. In fact, a report by the Connected Commerce Council found that small businesses without a pre-existing e-commerce presence were twice as likely to temporarily close during this crisis.
The case for taking your small business digital is clear. For one, an online presence helps you reach more customers. A recent report from eBay found that 96% of eBay-enabled small businesses are exporting to international customers, compared to only 1% of U.S. small businesses in general. On average, these eBay-enabled small businesses reach 17 different export markets, compared to an average of four markets for those not using this particular digital platform. If you own a rural business where the local customer base is limited, digital platforms are especially helpful for expanding your customer reach.
Even if you’re located in an urban area, more and more studies find that consumers prefer the ease and convenience of digital transactions. According to a Visa survey, more than 80% of consumers mention that digital tools such as an easy-to-use website or online loyalty program are motivating factors when deciding where to shop. An online presence also enables your business to be discovered by potential customers, whether they shop online or at your brick-and-mortar. By updating online profiles on Yelp and other platforms, your business becomes exponentially more discoverable.