You know how it is on the web. You follow some links and find yourself somewhere you didn’t expect to be.
Such was the case for me the other day. I am not really even sure what I was looking for or doing when I landed on a Mashable post written by Erica Swallow titled “How will Digital Change Small Business in 2012?” Intrigued by the title I read on and figured I would resurrect the post and consider the predictions Erica posited at the end of 2011. Nearly a decade ago.
In her post, Erica’s opens with this:
“Over the course of 2011, we witnessed social media and location-based services really take off for small businesses — the mom and pop shops of the world continued to get more digital and more mobile…We spoke with a number of small businesses to get their thoughts on how the market will continue to adapt to changing technologies as we move into the new year.”
Based on her discussions she put out seven small business predictions for 2012. We’ll take them on one by one. The predictions Erica set out in 2011 are italicized.
1. Businesses Mine Big Data
“What will really matter for SMBs in 2012 is the fact they can, for the first time, mine their own business like the big guys, and do so quickly and cheaply,” Delacour says. “SMBs can use powerful, high-end tools delivered via their desktop browser or onto their tablet for just a few dollars per month to see what’s happening with their HR, their sales, their social media engagement. Those SaaS tools give a one-man shop or a 50-person outfit almost instantly the same firepower as a whole department with its own IT staff inside a multinational.”
Our Take: This didn’t quite happen the way many thought it would have in 2012. We’d argue that SMBs haven’t really been afforded the really simple tools they need to figure out what all the data means. And while there may be more and more customer and employee data floating around a small business operation, few small business owners have the time or the training to interpret data in a way that they can make use of it.
2. Websites Optimize for Tablet Commerce
Back then, Forrester Research predicted mobile commerce will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 39% through 2016, and Infinite Research forecasted that tablet adoption would grow at a compound annual growth rate of 56% per year through 2015.
Alex Schmelkin, then co-founder and president of Alexander Interactive, believed that 2012 would bring an explosion of tablet commerce and said this “Widespread adoption of Apple’s iPad has made it imperative for retailers to optimize their websites for tablet usage, While companies will continue to develop native apps for the device, web browsing is the number one activity, and most t–commerce will continue to occur in the browser. Small businesses should review their sites to optimize for touch and fix any usability issues.”
Lisa A. Shorr, then vice president of marketing at PC Troubleshooters, would go as far as to say that 2012 would be the year that tablets take a stand in the small business arena “Since its launch in 2010, the tablet has been used not only as a browsing mechanism but a truly mobile business tool as well…Our clients are demanding more mobility and integration of mobile devices for document sharing, emailing, social media and more.”
Our Take: Today, there are some 200 million tablets in the hands of consumers and businesses in the U.S. While Forrester’s prediction of considerable growth of mobile commerce was tied to the sale of tablets, we tend to think the great improvements in the functionality of the mobile smartphone has in some way diminished the opportunity of tablets. Moreover, the pattern we’ve been seeing for some time now is to find ways to put great productivity functionality into the pocket and leave the tablets for fun and games.
3. Brands Become Publishers
“Content is King.” That’s an Internet mantra we’ve all heard way too many times. But there is truth to it. And next year, small businesses will start to see the light.
“2012 will mark a surge in businesses not only being the publishers of their own content but [being] disseminators as well,” says Affect Strategies‘ president and founder Sandra Fathi. “Whether it’s a company blog or a corporate e-newsletter, small businesses will focus on creating the content and developing their own publishing vehicles to get their messages to market. They will bypass traditional media outlets and go directly to their target audiences by creating branded niche media properties.”
Our Take: Well, this really hasn’t yet happened in the small business space. Lots of tools are out there and platforms like David Mihm’s Tidings that should be in the hands of many small business owners. Similarly, we recently spoke with long-time entrepreneur in the local space Andy Steuer, who has recently launched a content writing platform called Writeforme.io. As writers, we know the discipline it takes to make words matter. It is no small feat for anyone. But imagine the small business owner who has to choose between fixing a washing machine or writing content. The answer is pretty simple.
4. Loyalty Programs Go Digital
In 2011, Foursquare and other location-based services were huge influencers in taking loyalty programs digital. Small business certainly played their part in the game, making check-ins all the more fun for consumers.
Next year, though, we’ll see greater adoption of digital loyalty programs. “Punchcards are a thing of the past,” says Doug Hardman, CEO of SparkBase. “Businesses will start transferring their loyalty reward programs into the digital space. This is a twofold trend to keep up with bigger businesses such as Starbucks and Subway, which have digital reward programs, and also to compete with daily deal sites. Small businesses want to differentiate themselves and offer special deals without having to work with Groupon or LivingSocial. Mobile digital loyalty programs allow them to do this.”
Our Take: Large companies have really put the pedal to the metal in driving loyalty programs embedded in mobile apps. Starbucks may well be the poster child for having nailed this over the last decade. And lucky for Starbucks, its mobile app has had an oversized positive impact on their topline during the pandemic. And we’d suggest small businesses have really only begun to adopt compelling loyalty programs in the last couple of years.
5. Websites Integrate Social Login
Ian Aronovich, CEO of GovernmentAuctions.org, believes that more small businesses will integrate social login on their websites in 2011. “Social login is where you can use your Facebook, Yahoo, and Google IDs [among others] to log in to various websites,” he says. “It’s quick and easy to use. Social login is great because people don’t need to create dozens of new usernames and passwords every time they find a site that they want to use.”
Our Take: Seems like this has become pretty much table stakes for consumers. With Gmail having become so popular — an estimated 1.8 billion users — the notion of a single sign-on has become essentially a utility. Like water or electricity. At the same time few small, local business websites have much of a sign-on factor to begin with. And we don’t see much evidence of this happening anytime soon. The notion of showcasing customer recommendations and “likes” from their social circles is compelling. But this really isn’t used very often. With the exception perhaps of restaurants and food delivery.
6. Businesses Pull Back on Daily Deal Spend
Daily deal sites like Groupon and LivingSocial brought lots of excitement in 2011. While we saw a lot of small businesses’ success stories in the group buying space, we also heard of a number of disasters, including the story of a baker who almost went out of business after running a Groupon deal. For small businesses running on low margins, daily deals aren’t worth it.
Our Take: This wasn’t much of a prediction in late 2011. We all expected that local merchants would eventually realize that Groupon and LivingSocial were really just different mechanisms for driving cash flow. In fact, in February 2011 we did an SMB focus group in Seattle. In that room, one small business owner after another described the daily deal as simply a cash flow financing option.
That did not stop the daily deal madness in 2012. Groupon was worth $15.7 billion on January 30, 2012. Almost nine years later, the company’s market value was $0.98 billion. That’s just 6 percent of its 2012 value.
7. Scheduling Continues to Go Cloud
Jerry Nettuno, founder and CEO of Schedulicity, maybe a little biased, but we like where his head’s at. “The appointment book is dead,” he says. “The business sector as a whole has seen a shift to automation. The success of sites like Schedulicity, OpenTable, and ZocDoc only reinforces the idea that the traditional pen and paper appointment book may see its demise in 2012. The number of online appointments is growing exponentially. Schedulicity alone has seen nearly 7 million appointments booked online since mid-2009. Over the next two to five years, the physical appointment book will be gone altogether and replaced with online counterparts.”
Our Take: We might have agreed with Jerry back then. But the truth is small businesses are slower to adopt new technologies than we would prefer. But for the pandemic of 2020, there would still be millions of small businesses using the physical appointment book. And there are still millions that do so. But many have shifted or are in the process of shifting to a digital platform for appointments. We’ve written here recently about large recent funding rounds of scheduling platforms. Notably, Calendly just raised $350 million on a $3 billion valuation.