The most stringent pandemic lockdowns may be behind us, but their influence on how small businesses use the Internet isn’t going anywhere.
It can be overwhelming to realize just how much has changed since March 2020, when health authorities in the San Francisco Bay area issued America’s first lockdown orders to combat the threat of COVID. The rest of the country- and in fact most of the world- followed suit.
Lockdowns, while seemingly effective tools for curbing viral spread, came with unprecedented effects of their own. In short order, businesses both big and small were forced to adapt, come up with strategies to mitigate infectious risk, and keep their customers, employees, and associates out of harm’s way.
If they failed to do so, the only other option was for these businesses to shutter their doors. A study by the directory website Yelp has some alarming figures. It shows that of all businesses that closed down completely in response to lockdowns, 60% will never open again. Those closures are permanent. That’s a steep price to pay if a business can’t adapt.
Health-centric services and accommodations became the new normal for businesses that had never before paid them any mind. Corner shops started offering curbside pickup, locally owned restaurants introduced their own food delivery, and private storefronts began shipping products to customers. It was indeed a massive shift in how American small businesses actually did business.
To make these adaptations work in a world on lockdown, there needed to be new ways to reach customers. And this meant that for over a year- and in some places still currently on lockdown- a huge swath of the American economy moved to one place, and to one place only: the Internet.
In fact, according to a Pew Research Center survey, 87% of American adults indicate that the Internet was an important resource during lockdowns, with 53% even going so far as to call it “essential”. These figures have climbed steadily since the onset of lockdowns, but in spite of infection rates now falling and localities now reopening, the upward Internet trend shows no signs of reversing.
Cell phones, computers, tablets, and even smart home devices literally became the only portals through which potential customers accessed the outside world. And because of that, if a business didn’t exist online, it effectively didn’t exist at all. Fortunately, most business owners are adaptable and resourceful by their very nature, and the beginning of the “Lockdown Era” was followed by a mass migration of small businesses to the Internet.
At the very least, these businesses established their online presences to inform the public of adjusted hours, services, or other precautionary measures. At the most, they developed new apps and interfaces to directly interact with customers in convenient, safe, and cutting-edge ways.
Predictably, this sprawling change in the way that customers are acquired and cared for was followed by a drastic shift in consumer behavior and expectations. As a direct result of lockdowns, businesses with a managed Internet presence, including e-commerce, reached levels of online consumer interaction not anticipated until 2025.
Consider this along with the fact that Internet use trends among American adults have only increased year after year. For the entire 20-year period that these trends have been measured, search traffic for local businesses and services alone has increased by 2,000%. In other words, once customers get online, they don’t leave! And more keep coming.
The truth is that the “Lockdown Era” didn’t necessarily create this shift. It simply expedited outcomes in both business and consumer behavior that were going to materialize regardless. Businesses especially have been moving online since the days of dial-up…and it’s no wonder why!
A 2019 study found that on average, small businesses with a managed presence on services like Google My Business (GMB) are found in local searches over 1,000 times a month. A related study indicated that a whopping 72% of those consumers actually interact with the business, usually in the form of an in-store visit, a phone call, or visiting the business’s website and social media pages.
So here’s the bottom line. Making the most of these Internet and “Lockdown Era” trends may seem daunting and expensive, but it isn’t. In fact, it has never been easier, cheaper, and more important than it is now.
Small businesses don’t need to reorganize operations, processes, or infrastructure. They don’t need to offer curbside pickup, delivery, shipping, or any of that. They don’t need a special app or interface.
But they should lay claim their Internet stake, and nail down their online presence. After all, throughout the lockdowns, the Internet has quite literally been a lifeline for consumers throughout every part of the country and for every category of industry.
And the data is clear: while lockdowns may be going away, consumers’ reliance on the web is not.