Digital tools enable small businesses to adapt quickly when their business environment changes. A report sponsored by Connected Commerce Council and Google surveyed 502 US small business owners in May 2020 about their use of these tools during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Many of the respondents relied on digital tools during the COVID-19 crisis.
- 76% turned to digital tools to help weather the pandemic
- 52% increased the use of digital tools to communicate and contact their customers as a replacement for face-to-face contact
- 31% would have had to close all or part of their businesses if not for digital tools
- 25% rely on e-commerce platforms for day-to-day operations
These compelling statistics and more highlight the importance of a digital strategy. But what really hits home are the stories that show the power of digital tools— small business owners prospering during the crisis while supporting both their customers and their local communities.
Kettlebell Kings’ sells kettlebells directly to consumers. They also sell digital products like at-home workout programs and online training sessions. Before COVID-19 hit, their digital toolset already included Google Ads, Google Analytics, and software to handle customer experience and inventory management. They were able to apply their understanding of the power of social media to use forums on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit to create a loyal customer base.
When consumer spending shifted due to the stay-at-home mandate, their orders increased from 10 to 500 a day. The digital systems they already had in place allowed them to fulfill those additional orders almost via the push of a digital button. Google Analytics helped them decide to redirect advertising dollars—originally targeted to promote in-person events at gyms that were now closed—to enhance their digital products for quarantined customers.
Forecasting past the pandemic, Founder and Managing Partner Chad Price believes those digital products are “helping advance an overall shift in fitness culture.” He believes customers will realize that kettlebells and a smartphone are all the gym they need.
Report Finding: Business owners who feel empowered by digital tools are 4.5x more likely to project a revenue increase during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Spice House
The Spice House sells spices, herbs, blends, and extracts. When Charlie Mayer purchased the 60-year old business, he applied his passions for “digital tools and cloud-based efficiency.” Because he lived in Washington, DC, and the primary storefront was in Illinois, he implemented Slack and Zoom for remote communication. Fortunately, he also implemented digital tools for internet sales, in-store pickups, and customer service operations and communications. When the pandemic hit and the 4 physical locations closed except for in-store pickup, the company relied on their digital presence for sales.
Cooking at home became a quarantine hobby, and The Spice House found itself with more orders than ever before. Sales in April and May, traditionally slow months, exceeded the sales of their 2 traditionally busiest months of November and December. Digital processes allowed them to meet the surge in demand—something that would have been difficult with manual systems.
But it’s not simply the increase in sales facilitated by their online presence that makes this story special. The Spice House needed more workers to help process all the new orders—so they hired many people laid off from local restaurants. Additionally, using their online marketing communications, Charlie highlights other food-related small businesses to his customers.
A believer in digital, Charlie sums it up best when he says, “The world can go on pause for months at a time, and a cloud-connected business can just go right on.”
Report Finding: 70% of small businesses say digital tools are useful to them during the COVID-19 crisis.
Juanny Romero, founder & CEO of Sunrise Coffee, opened her first coffee shop in Las Vegas, Nevada, with the belief that “coffee is all about community.” Her opening day occurred at the start of the 2008 Recession. Knowing adaptation is the key to survival, she turned to digital tools to help create an online community to replace the in-person community that was shuttered by the 2020 pandemic and resulting recession.
She admits hesitating to implement digital tools. “My life is all about what I can see, touch, and smell.” But when a customer pointed out the great reviews on her Google Business Profile, she realized the power of digital. Updating the profile regularly and using Google Analytics, she now tracks her successes and course corrects when something isn’t working.
Digital tools adoption continued, and she digitized back-office processes using G Suite Apps. She put online ordering in place as well. All this set her business up for success when the pandemic shuttered retail traffic. Using Google Trends data, she focused online advertising dollars on promoting her sustainably-sourced coffee beans.
She recreated a sense of community online. Customers could donate a bag of coffee beans to first responders and healthcare workers—Juanny matched each bag donated with 2 additional bags. The media highlighted her business, and the increased sales put the business in the black.
While looking forward to reuniting with her local community, she is grateful for the strong online community that has developed. She says, “The sense of community I found online reminded me of why I started a coffee shop in the first place.”
Report Finding: 40% of small businesses rely on digital tools for new customers.
Jasmine Crowe, CEO of Goodr, founded her B-corp food management company with a focus on digital-first. Believing that hunger is a logistics issue rather than a scarcity issue, her business focuses on “Feed More, Waste Less.”
In simple terms, the service they provide is to “get food to where it can do the most good.” They offer a secure ledger to track their clients’ surplus food from pickup to donation. Additionally, they offer real-time social and environmental reporting analysis.
Their digital toolbox includes using Google Analytics to find communities to serve, Google Maps to create optimized routes for their drivers, and LinkedIn to promote the company as a thought leader in the industry.
Jasmine believes Goodr’s digital-first focus enabled them to service existing clients during the pandemic while growing the business. New customers included shutdown businesses, like restaurants, that had extra food. And seeing an issue created by the pandemic, Goodr added an option on the website to allow people to donate groceries to families in need.
Report Finding: Women small business owners are 11% more likely to use digital tools than men.
Peter Stein started Peeko Oysters, an oyster farm in New York, after being laid off from his tech job. As the everything person—owner, farmer, marketer, delivery guy—he implemented free and low-cost digital solutions wherever he could to free up his time. FarmersWeb handled the logistics of running a farm. Google Docs helped with e-commerce and monthly regulatory reporting.
Anticipating a record year in 2020, he switched to survival mode when his restaurant customer base disappeared with the COVID-19 shutdown. He used his digital toolset to pivot his customer focus almost overnight to direct sales.
Using smartphone apps like Venmo and integrating Shopify into his website, he gave quarantined shellfish lovers a means of purchasing oysters directly. His local contacts and owners of closed restaurants shared his new business venture with their networks. Orders picked up. Then he realized his new customer base needed to be taught how to prepare oysters. YouTube became his platform for creating educational videos and highlighting local chefs.
Peter sums up the benefits of digital tools: “While I never thought an oyster farm would need so much technology to stay afloat, digital tools are what allowed us to adapt and survive.”
Report Finding: 34% reported social media and video platforms as the most helpful tool during the COVID-19 crisis.
These stories show the real impact that digital tools can and will have on small businesses in the future. Technology complements the need for speed when adapting to change. The small business owners highlighted in the report proved that by embracing digital tools, they not only survived but excelled at reinventing themselves almost overnight. Consider joining the 80% of small business owners who want to learn how to use digital tools to improve their business.