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Customers want small businesses to digitally transform with them


Oct 30, 2020

Guest written by Brett Grossfeld, Product Marketing Manager at Salesforce.

“Going digital” in business generally comes with the connotation of “more convenience for customers”. But in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, digital transformation takes on another meaning: protecting employees and customers.

At Salesforce, we conducted a consumer-based survey in May 2020 to learn how customers feel about small businesses and what they want to see from them. As it turns out, small businesses aren’t the only ones going through their own digital transformation. 

Customers go digital when options become limited

When faced with the statewide restrictions for the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers spent more time in front of the computer and mobile screens. From our survey respondents during the last weeks of the initial lockdown (in most states), 56 percent noted an increase in social media use. Additionally, 59 percent claimed to use video chat at least once a week. 

When asked about preferences regarding a business’s opening times and changes in processes, customers go predominantly digital. Sixty percent note they turn to a small business’s website, while 29 percent turn to social media. For the non-digital alternatives, 41 percent still prefer to call a business and 31 percent want to see information on a storefront. The results suggest that small businesses should cover all their bases to keep customers informed, but digital presence should be a top priority.

Although consumers didn’t have much of a choice back in May, these findings are in-step with what others have discovered. Deloitte notes video game activities were up amongst digital consumers by 75 percent during the onset of the COVID crisis. Similarly, Adobe Analytics found that US online sales increased 55 percent year over year in July 2020 –no doubt fueled by limited options, but also a potential indication that consumers prefer to order goods online.

However, there’s some uncertainty amongst consumers that small businesses will be able to keep up with the sudden push to go more digital. Thirty-five percent believe small businesses are tech-savvy enough to keep pace, but 65 percent think small businesses will need better technology to properly serve their customers. 

A focus on safety and future-proofing

The biggest finding from the survey was the number one thing that consumers want small businesses to focus on. A majority 55 percent rated “Making customers feel safe” as the top priority, followed by “Making it easier to do business (purchasing online, curb-side pickup, and so on)” at 19 percent.

That focus on safety can be seen in guidance requiring masks for all indoor interactions, but many small businesses are still offering the options from the restrictive lockdown phases (like online ordering and curb-side pickup). While these adjustments may be in anticipation of another lockdown, it’s aligned with a focus and commitment to customer safety. 

Customers still shop small because doing so is beneficial for the economy, but that means small businesses have to evolve as their customers do. It’s important for them to consider how they can limit physical contact and show up better online, both for better customer experiences, and to make it through uncertain circumstances. It gives new importance to what digital transformation can mean –not just for customer convenience, but for their safety as well.

Brett Grossfeld is a seasoned content marketer, he has written for multiple websites and publications that span across various industries and interests, including tech, wellness, and modern customer experiences. Follow him on LinkedIn.

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