SALT LAKE CITY — Despite the significant challenges posed by the coronavirus and mandated shutdowns in metro areas nationwide, a new study shows the majority of small business enterprises are managing to remain solvent through access to digital tools and services.
A report titled “Digitally Empowered: How Digital Tools Power Small Businesses Amid COVID-19,” was released Wednesday by the Connected Commerce Council — or 3C, a nonprofit membership organization representing digitally empowered small businesses. The study noted that 76% of small businesses it looked at are relying more on digital tools than previously, and 74% expect to return to business as usual within six months of local restrictions being lifted.
“This report shows that in the face of the COVID-19 global pandemic and economic crisis, digitally empowered small businesses are weathering the storm and optimistic about the future,” said 3C President Jake Ward. “Access to affordable, scalable and secure tools is critical — now, more than ever. Small businesses drive the American economy, and they will drive the American recovery with the support of their communities and digital tools.”
According to a news release, digital tools are defined as enterprise-quality tools that serve small businesses, including marketing and advertising tools such as Instagram, YouTube, Google Ads and analytics; customer relationship management instruments from companies like Salesforce and Constant Contact; operations platforms from Quickbooks; and online marketplaces like Amazon, eBay or Shopify.
While many enterprises have been able to persevere, others have not been so fortunate.
“Unquestionably, this is a complex, difficult time for small businesses. I’ve seen numbers anywhere to a third of all U.S. businesses have either closed their doors or will close their doors in the next couple of weeks as a result of the crisis,” Ward said during a virtual press conference. “Much of that is attributed to lack of revenue or lack of funding to bridge them from today to tomorrow and they don’t necessarily see a future forward.”
He noted that locales like northern Utah, where recreation and hospitality are major industries, have been impacted greatly — particularly in the small-business realm.
“Those small businesses are being hit incredibly hard and there’s no question about it. There’s no way to virtually ski, there’s only so many things that you’re able to do,” he said. “But we are seeing an increase in investment for marketing from those industries that are regionally dependent and physically specific.”
“We’re seeing an investment in online marketing and customer relationship management, whereas a ski resort in Utah, for example, to be able to say to customers that have registered for your newsletter, ‘Here’s what’s going on. Here’s what we’ll be back in business. We’d really like if you come, you can prepay and buy your seasonal ski pass for next year,’” he explained.
He said resorts and hotels can use digital tools to offer discounts to attract visitors for the upcoming ski season and try to generate advanced revenue as they deal with the current COVID-19 crisis.
“I don’t think there’s any time in our industrial history that we were more prepared to deal with something like this,” Ward said. “The nature of doing communications, of remote learning for our kids, for working, for employers, employees, and the ability to move transactions around on the internet has made this more feasible than at any other time in human history. That is a bit of silver lining, all things considered.”
Meanwhile, last week a cadre of Utah business owners penned a letter to Gov. Gary Herbert imploring him and state policymakers to preserve access to critical digital tools and resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter was signed by over 60 Utah-based leaders from a wide range of small business enterprises.
In the letter, local advocates also warned against poorly conceived regulatory and legal challenges that could preclude the use of vital technology options that have proven useful during the shutdown.
“We’re lucky to have access to so many free and low-cost digital platforms and tools to stay in business, maintain our workforce, and serve our community,” said James Greaves, CEO of Spanish Fork-based Brand Makers. “As we work toward reopening the economy, it’s important that elected leaders understand the role technology is now playing and avoid policy mistakes that could slow our recovery.”