Published on January 27, 2021, at 1:47 p.m.
by Kathleen McManus.
When many states across the U.S. faced lockdown and stay-at-home orders in mid-March, small-business owners faced the question, “What’s next?” As physical storefronts closed and consumers stayed home, small businesses were challenged with connecting to consumers to keep their businesses alive.
Though 2020 brought unexpected obstacles for businesses, a few tools helped small businesses connect with their consumers online.
Though often viewed as a threat to small businesses, 2020 has been a banner year for Amazon’s partnerships with small businesses. In its small- and medium-sized business report published earlier this year, Amazon reported 2 million independent partners work with the company, including sellers, developers, content creators, authors and delivery providers. Amazon’s digital storefront provides opportunities for companies to get their brands in front of consumers who like a centralized place to shop.
By creating a storefront on Amazon, small businesses are reaching new consumers and growing their potential customers. Not only are these relationships good public relations for Amazon itself, but they provide credibility and convenience to the small businesses, too. Amazon helps introduce small businesses to consumers and, in turn, helps them build consumer relationships.
Shopify has opened the door for small businesses to create online storefronts through *their own website hosted by Shopify. This e-commerce platform allows businesses to showcase unlimited products, manually create orders, discount merchandise and receive a shipping discount. Small businesses also can connect Shopify to their existing websites, which may be more branded or include media like product tutorial videos.
Shopify President Harley Finkelstein reported that 67% of young consumers have shifted their spending online since the beginning of the pandemic. For small businesses targeting younger consumers, a platform like Shopify provides an easy way for small businesses to reach their target consumers through e-commerce.
Small business owners already have very full plates, and sometimes managing an e-commerce platform is not necessarily their strongest skill. Instagram recently rolled out an update that refreshed the app’s layout and now includes a Shop page, where business accounts can post products and Instagram users can shop products featured in posts directly through the app. This new feature makes it easier for businesses to sell products through the app and creates one less step for followers of small business accounts by eliminating a swipe up in Instagram stories or clicking a link in an account’s profile.
This feature also opens opportunities for small businesses to engage with consumers who are outside of their local reach. For example, a small business in a Chicago suburb can now make sales from consumers in California all through Instagram. This new, easy-to-shop method increases the number of consumers small businesses can reach through a platform with more than 1 billion users.
While a number of technological e-commerce opportunities have popped up for small businesses in 2020, influencers have helped grow awareness of small businesses among their followings. When it became apparent that the pandemic was going to affect small businesses’ sales, many small brands increased their budgets for social and influencer marketing knowing that these channels were effective ways to reach consumers.
Influencers also have been active in directing their followers to these small businesses without incentive. In the spring, several bloggers spotlighted small businesses to support during the unexpected lockdowns. Influencers continued to support small businesses during Black Friday and Cyber Week, too. Many created small business gift guides sharing their favorite small businesses to follow and support in the holiday season.
As more consumers shift to online shopping, adaptability by small businesses to reach consumers will help them stay connected. With the support of new e-commerce platforms and influencers, small businesses may be able to drop the “small” through reaching new consumers in different locations than their hometowns. Though 2020 has brought its challenges, a push to e-commerce may be a positive change for these businesses in the long term.