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Globalized hyper-consumerism, monopoly reign, climate change… As if we really needed another reason to support local businesses and communities, the coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic hit hard and shook the economy, especially small businesses and local communities.

As more small businesses close their doors and the sting of the recession sinks deeper, “support local” may be one of the greatest strategies for community resilience and to keep SMBs afloat. But before we can implement any adaptation strategies, it is necessary to understand how exactly COVID-19 has shaped the business market and what this means for you and your customers.

COVID-19 and E-Commerce

In a matter of months since the onset of COVID-19, the global economy has morphed from a bustling superhighway of goods and people to a largely digital phenomena as flights are cancelled and businesses operate from home. With more people working remotely and adjusting their lives to adapt to health safety guidelines, new buying behaviors are emerging and reflecting what, where, and how consumers buy during crises.

Online shopping continues to be a popular consumer outlet due to its convenience and worldwide selection of goods. Data from the Common Thread Collective shows that e-commerce sales have risen 52% and certain industries such as grocery delivery have seen boosts in activity as consumers avoid public places. This shift to online shopping is also favored by Millennials, now America’s largest generation. According to data from consumer firm, First Insight, there are more Millennials shopping less in-store (39%) and more online (30%) compared to other generations.

To stay afloat in such volatile times, it is critical for SMBs to merge into the world of ecommerce and provide a way for customers to order online. Ecommerce allows your business to keep its digital doors open and meet the needs of your loyal customers. To make this digital shift, you may have to readjust the company budget to cover any software needed for website building and online transactions. And while there are several third-party logistic companies able to ship your products to customers, curbside pickup has become a reasonable compromise.

Changing Consumer Demands

Not only is the pandemic shaping how goods are purchased, but what is being bought as well. At the beginning of the pandemic, consumer trends buckled from fear and crowd mentality as toilet paper and hand sanitizer were shuffled out by the cartloads, leaving store shelves ransacked and empty.

In contrast to the psychological whirl of urgency, COVID-19 has also granted consumers more time for their hobbies and interests. From the bread baking craze to binge-worthy Netflix series, consumers are finding ways to make times of lockdown enjoyable or at least bearable.

There has also been a rise in consumer awareness on their purchases and how it impacts community welfare. A study conducted by Accenture found that making more sustainable choices and shopping in neighborhood stores were priorities for 54% and 46% of consumers respectively, and 88% believe that these behavior changes will continue long after the pandemic ends.

This is great news for SMBs across all industries who may be wondering how they can retain their customer base and drive sales. However, it does require creative thinking. The Common Thread Collection offers 10 online shopping tactics to become “essential”  that explain how to address the pandemic in your marketing, create “at-home” adaptations for your products, network with and support the most vulnerable groups (gyms, music venues, etc.), among other initiatives.

To combat the global state of flux, it is necessary for SMBs to monitor market conditions and consumer demands. Understanding what goods and services are in need and at what rate allows your business to accurately communicate with suppliers, maintain stock, and make adjustments if needed.

Networking Locally

Main Street America surveyed 5,850 small businesses in the U.S., of which 91% had fewer than 20 employees, and estimated that 7.5 million small businesses are at risk of closing due to the pandemic. Nearly 57% of those surveyed said their revenue dropped more than 75%. With the uncertainty of financial relief packages and government support, it is a dismal matter of survival for SMBs and many feel stranded.

Thankfully it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, this is a pivotal moment for SMBs to soar to new heights. In addition to making creative leaps in marketing strategies and product design, SMBs can harness each other for support. It is just as important for SMBs to source locally as it is for customers.

Begin by evaluating your inventory and see which items you can buy locally and consider offering your goods and services at a discounted price to other small businesses. Facilitate a local outreach program as a place for donating unwanted materials and lending equipment to SMBs. Additionally, collaborate with other SMBs on marketing campaigns to support each other’s brands and gain fresh insight and new ideas.

SMBs are the heart of communities. They provide the livelihood of your friends and neighbors, and offer an authenticity and trustworthiness that cannot be replicated anywhere else. Amazon may be able to hyper-deliver products in just a matter of days but it certainly is no mom-and-pop shop that greets customers by name and supplies the freshest local goods. In times of crisis and economic upheaval, it is critical for business leaders to learn from and adapt to such events. Together, with the support of their stakeholders, SMBs can build resiliency and prepare themselves and their communities for future challenges.

About the Author

Sarah Long

GBB Green Ambassador

Sarah Long is a content writer for Green Business Bureau who is passionate about the power of brand development and marketing to promote sustainability. Currently pursuing a Master’s degree focused in Sustainable Energy, she also has a special interest in emerging clean energy technology and design. Outside of academia and her career pursuits, Sarah performs as an indie folk musician and enjoys painting and going on road trips with her dog, Echo.

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