Helping small businesses pivot to digital

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Amid the changing regulations due to COVID 19, small businesses are working to improve their digital offerings. Photo: Freepik.com

As small businesses throughout Washington adjust to the challenges presented by the evolving regulations regarding COVID 19, it has become increasingly clear that in order to survive, business owners need to enhance – or in some cases, build from scratch – their digital sales and service capabilities.

To help small business owners and independent retailers meet these challenges, the Washington Retail Association (WRA) is partnering with SpotOn, Inc. a company providing an ecosystem of services for managing payments, appointments, ordering, marketing, social media, reviews, mobile apps and more.

“We’re trying to help the small guys pivot as quickly as they can,” said Rose Gundersen, WRA’s VP of Operations and Retail Services, of the decision to partner with the company. “With SpotOn, they’ve got this whole system ready to go.”

“A lot of our very small businesses just can’t compete with the bigger ones that have the larger systems and operations set up,” said Terry Hopsecger, WRA’s Director of Business Development. “We thought this service would be so great for our small retailers; their platform is very robust and makes it easy for the non-user or new user.”

During a WRA-hosted Aug. 6 webinar, SpotOn’s Regional Director Anthony Smith and Director of Business Development Patrick Wiltsey discussed the benefits of their suite of products and how they can help small businesses transition to, or enhance, digital offerings.

“Knowing how to engage with customers in this new normal is critical,” Wiltsey told Lens. “Being able to use more of these tools in a digital fashion is absolutely essential to business owners now.”

“We’re seeing a real change in consumer and merchant behavior,” he continued, in that people who didn’t engage or were reluctant to engage with digital tools are now starting to do so. “We’re trying to make that process as easy as possible so that business owners can get all their digital assets on one platform.”

A recent Gartner Survey states that 77% of businesses will be increasing their digital budgets in 2021. Whether ramping up existing online operations or navigating the more difficult transition from strictly brick-and-mortar operations to establishing an online presence, small businesses face a variety of unique hurdles, including:

  • Lack of service dedicated to their size, including payment processors, software design, and point-of-sale retailers who rely on self-service models;
  • Lack of negotiation power that makes them subject to predatory pricing models from providers with burdensome contracts, junk fees, and high processing rates;
  • Lack of time and know-how to manage social media content and reviews; and
  • Lack of digital marketing tools with the target flexibility and pricing model that fits their needs.

“Personalizing and tailoring the customer experience in business is so important, and small businesses have been able to do that, but COVID really changed the game,” Gundersen said. “Just think about it…going from in-person to retailers now making appointments, having to offer curbside service, or having customers who can’t even come to the store….this really offers timely and relevant services that can be tailored.”

Translating the in-store experience to an online environment is something that Fireworks Gallery Operations Manager Timothy Schmidt says his company is currently working to address. With six locations throughout the greater Seattle area – all known for their visual appeal – “trying to translate that to our website has always been a challenge,” he said.

“Our owner is meticulous with curating products – she’s just very intentional. A lot of what we do is about the in-store experience. To get a sense of the product, the practicality, the size, we try to make the shopping experience and the visual really pop. Online, it’s harder to get a sense of our product. So many different types: housewares, toys, personal care, home…translating that to digital is hard.”

Wiltsey said his company is uniquely situated to address the challenges that small businesses are facing because of COVID. “We own our products from end to end, so that make us very nimble and able to respond to the changing business climate that we’re in right now.” He also notes that services are more accessible than with competitors because SpotOn has no up-front costs or contract requirements.

Hopsecger noted two additional benefits: one-stop-shopping and the support and education available to actually use the tools, so that retailers can “work with just one company rather than going to seven different businesses,” which is time-consuming and costly when also trying to run the business itself.

“We’re very in-tune to the fact that tools are only as good as your education level and how far you are able to implement them,” Wiltsey said of the “first-line, 24/7, 365-day customer support” SpotOn provides.

Schmidt said his company is working to launch an updated website with enhanced reliability and content to reach customers, as an ongoing hurdle has been the restrictions on the number of people allowed to be in stores. They’re also interested in developing their social media management, as “that will be a very important part of marketing” going forward.

WRA reps say it’s their hope that business owners will find these products useful, allowing them to adapt and succeed in a rapidly changing environment.

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