This report is the definitive story of how a ‘Digital Safety Net’ helped American small businesses during COVID-19. The research describes how and to what extent affordable and accessible digital tools have enabled many small businesses to survive and recover from the economic impact of COVID-19 – in some cases, becoming stronger and more agile in the process. We also found that more digitally-driven businesses projected better financial outcomes for this year compared to less digital peers.

This research sought to understand shifts in perception and use of digital tools among U.S. SMBs as a result of COVID–19. The research objectives included:

  • Gauging the impact of COVID–19 on small businesses across industries, geographies, and vulnerable communities.
  • Understanding the role of digital tools in helping small businesses run and grow their businesses.
  • Uncovering shifts in the role of digital tools as a result of COVID–19.
  • Identifying current and anticipated pain points and unmet needs around digital tools.
  • Exploring attitudes and perceptions about the future and the role digital tools might play in a new normal.

This report is largely based on findings from a nationwide survey of 7,021 SMB leaders, with at least 100 SMBs from each state. Data were weighted by gender, ethnicity, region, business size, and vertical, for an accurate representation of SMBs nationally, as distributed by the number of people they employ. In other words, SMBs are representative of and distributed in accordance with their role as economic engines of the U.S. economy.

The survey was fielded online and by phone between May 28 and July 3, 2020, a period in which businesses were contending not only with COVID-19, but in many cases, increased levels of civil unrest. As such, it is important to acknowledge the findings for what they are and are not: this study specifically focused on the role of technology in helping businesses through the pandemic. The attitudes it captured, including technological attitudes prior to COVID-19 and outlook for the future, are likely enduring, but naturally they exist within a broader range of concerns and challenges with which SMBs must contend.

Part of this report is additionally based on insights derived from one–hour video interviews with 56 SMB leaders during April and May 2020. Based on a number of key questions about the use of digital tools, four mutually–exclusive “personas” of SMBs were derived, as presented in the report. The same questions from the survey data then assigned the 7,021 SMBs into those personas.

It is also important to point out that this study focused only on those SMBs that were actively still in business at the time we contacted them, in the middle of COVID–19. Thus, this report tells a story of preparedness: what factors contributed to preparedness, how preparedness differs across different kinds of businesses, and how that affects the future of these SMBs.

Finally, we derived additional insights and context via third–party references and discussions with subject matter experts. These are listed on the following pages.

Who was involved?

Connected Commerce Council

The Connected Commerce Council (3C) is a non-profit membership organization with a single goal: to promote small businesses’ access to essential digital technologies and tools. 3C provides small businesses with access to the market’s most effective digital tools available, provides coaching to optimize growth and efficiency, and works to cultivate a policy environment that considers and respects the interests of today’s small businesses.

Visit connectedcouncil.org

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Through products and platforms like Search, Maps, Gmail, Android, Google Play, Chrome, and YouTube, Google plays a meaningful role in the daily lives of billions of people and has become one of the most widely-known companies in the world. Google is a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc.

Visit google.com/about

Greenberg (formerly Greenberg Strategy) is a research and strategy consultancy focused on helping businesses understand the WholeHuman® Experience inside and outside the organization. Our approach integrates patterns thinking, insight and design in order to maximize companies’ value. We specialize in both qualitative and quantitative research around customers, brands, communications, products and organizations. Headquartered in Emeryville, CA, Greenberg was awarded Quirk's Market Research Supplier of the Year in 2019.

Visit lrwgreenberg.com

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