Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Digital capabilities offer a lifeline to small businesses during pandemic

Salesforce​ surveyed over 3,600 consumers worldwide to gain a pulse check on how small businesses are navigating during the COVID-19 pandemic and what steps they can take to bring customers back.

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Digital capabilities like e-commerce offer a lifeline to small businesses as the navigate through COVID-19 pandemic

Salesforce conducted a double-blind global survey of 3,619 respondents with focus on how small businesses are navigating during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Salesforce Research focused on how small businesses are fairing in their communities, if and how they're supporting them, and what steps businesses can take to bring customers back. Click here to explore Tableau data across demographics and geographies.

Small- and medium-sized businesses represent over 90% of the business population, over 60% of employment, and over 50% of GDP in developed economies. In the United States, there are 30.2 million small businesses. Small businesses comprise 99.9% of all United States businesses. Small businesses in the U.S. employ 58.9 million people, which makes up 47.5% of the country's total employee workforce. Consumers are rallying around their beloved and vulnerable small businesses, but will that alone be enough? In the United States, 49% of consumers say that the small businesses in their communities are struggling to adapt in the pandemic and 55% note that some of the small businesses had to close due to the pandemic.

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Small businesses are having a difficult time adapting to the Pandemic 

Below are some key takeaways from respondents from around the globe: 

Consumers are rallying to save their beloved small businesses

  • While we know that overall consumer spending is down, 56% of consumers polled say they're spending more with small businesses now than they did last year.

  • Consumers may be opening their wallets more because the pandemic has given them a renewed appreciation for small businesses. 69% of consumers say the pandemic has made them appreciate small businesses more than before, and 67% say they're more committed than they were previously to supporting small businesses.

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Consumers are mobilizing to support small businesses 

Millennials are leading the charge with support of small businesses

  • These sentiments and actions are particularly prevalent among the largest group of consumers -- millennials. 62% of millennials say they're spending more with small businesses, and 72% said they're more committed to supporting them than before.

  • As Meredith Schmidt noted in our newsroom post, the fact that millennials are so enthusiastic about small businesses gives promise that this trend can continue for the long term.

Despite the support, small businesses are struggling

  • Consumers underscore the resiliency of small businesses in their communities: 52% say most small businesses in their area are adapting to the pandemic, and 41% even say they've witnessed them shifting business models.

  • Still, 53% of consumers say at least one small business that they personally bought from in the past has closed.

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Most important aspects of shopping at a small business 

Digital capabilities offer a lifeline to small businesses

  • 55% of consumers say they're more likely to support a small business with a digital presence. This is especially true for millennials (63%) and Gen Z (61%).

  • A sizable minority of young consumers have taken steps to not only support small businesses digitally during the pandemic, but advocate for them. 44% of Gen Zers and 40% of millennials have shared or liked small business content over social media, for example, and 38% of Gen Zers and 32% of millennials have written positive online reviews.

  • This doesn't mean that digital transformations, in and of themselves, will bring all customers back. Baby boomers and Gen Xers are more likely to value an updated in-store experience that makes them feel safe.

  •  Millennials and Gen Zers cite online shopping and customer service options among the most important aspects of shopping with a small business.

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Small businesses must invest in digital transformation 

Consumers are calling on large businesses and governments to do more

  • Globally, 72% of consumers think large corporations aren't doing enough to support small businesses during this time of need (e.g., through grants), a sentiment that is relatively consistent across countries.

  • 68% of consumers in the United States believe the government is falling short of supporting small businesses 

  • The majority of global consumers also believe that governments must step up to help small businesses, though the degree to which varies across countries. Australians are most likely to be satisfied with their government's response -- 60% of them say the government has done enough to help small businesses. Brazilians and Americans are the least likely to be satisfied with their government's support of small businesses.

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Government if falling short of supporting small businesses 

To learn more about how small businesses can navigate this radically different era, visit the latest interactive Tableau dashboards here.