The uncertainty caused by the pandemic has been challenging for small- and midsized retailers that lack the vast resources of larger organizations.
They have also faced hurdles such as labor shortages, supply chain uncertainty and a rapid decline in in-store sales. Yet these businesses have proven themselves to be particularly adept at pivoting quickly to digital and adopting new technology-based practices to fuel and maintain growth. In fact, a Verizon Business Small Business Recovery Survey found that 63% of small and midsize businesses claim they have implemented new tools and tech of some kind in 2021.
These tech investments have primarily focused on digital security and new connectivity solutions that promise long-term ROI.
A new digital experience
As this past year has proven, and as the pandemic continues to rage on, there is an urgent need to help businesses of all sizes more digitally capable with experiences that work at least as well virtually as they do in the real world. For many small businesses, that has meant adding new digital touchpoints such as virtual meetings and contactless payment systems for smoother customer-facing processes.
According to the Verizon survey, 53% of small- and midsize businesses added or upgraded their internet connection in the past year to enable high-bandwidth activities such as cloud-based applications for reliable always-on customer interactions. It is one of the reasons we’ve seen the growth and expansion of our 5G Business Internet which we rolled out in 2021 and is now available in more than 50 markets across the country.
This growing dependence on digital has also prompted heavier interest and investment in cybersecurity training and in solutions to protect endpoints and maintain reliable connectivity for employees who are increasingly working from anywhere. The survey also showed that 50% or more of small and midsize businesses purchased or upgraded their antivirus software or plan to require multi-factor authentication for account logins within the next six months.
Making retail easier
Small and midsize businesses are taking these digital tools a step further, using them to gain valuable intelligence about their customers, whether they shop online or in-store. With supply chain management tools, retailers gain instant insights into inventory levels, giving customers certainty about the availability of products they want to purchase.
A Verizon Look Forward study from earlier this year showed that customers have a greater desire to take advantage of a touchless retail environment. The study showed that more than 1 in 5 adults anticipate that they will be using self-checkout (23%), contactless credit cards (24%), and contactless mobile payments (22%) more in a year than they do today. That means businesses of all sizes are turning to touchless transactions through point of sale (POS) devices, technologies and platforms. Giving consumers payment flexibility is another great example of small and midsize businesses leveraging the same technology adopted by large enterprises for superior customer experiences.
Relationships go virtual
Video conferencing platforms have and will continue to be incredibly valuable in the coming year in filling the gap as vital communication tools. Furthermore, we are seeing growth in cloud-based phone systems.
The past few years have shown that today’s small and midsize business owners are resilient. With technology playing a key role, there’s no limit to what they can achieve to take their businesses to new heights that will enable them to succeed and grow in 2022 and beyond.
Aparna Khurjekar is president of Verizon Business Markets.