Why customers want small businesses to digitally transform

“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.


Salesforce conducted a survey in 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 global restrictions for the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers spent more time in front of the computer and mobile screens. From the survey, respondents during the last weeks of the initial lockdown (in most areas), 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. It is this integration and visibility that makes a difference.


Although consumers didn’t have much of a choice back in May, these findings are in-step with what others have discovered. Similarly, Adobe found 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. 35% 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, 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 pickup).


Customers still shop small because doing so is beneficial for the economy, it's accessible and local, 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 perform 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, loyalty and future business as well.


(adapted from Xero guest blog)