2020 is coming to a close with some businesses in bad shape or even having closed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for others, it was ‘business as usual’ albeit with lesser profits and perhaps just making ends meet. The year had its share of change and transformation.
All such factors will determine what happens during the balance of the year and tell us what to expect for the one to come. As we are poised to enter a new year, let’s take a look at some of the key trends that could mark the year 2021 for small businesses.
All of these predictions share the important caveat that everything is very unpredictable at the moment, so these trends are what we can expect to the best of our knowledge, but the only thing that is certain is that nothing is certain!
Work-from-Home and Remote Work Culture
Six years ago, though many were astonished by Richard Branson’s announcement of ‘unlimited vacation’ for his employees, it has become sort of the norm today thanks to the Covid-19 Pandemic. With advancement in digital communication, more and more tasks could already be done remotely.
People can do many jobs such as word processing and spread-sheet work, scheduling and documentation, project management, software development, and many other tasks remotely from home. The pandemic, and the proliferation of remote work and communication tools driven by it have made work flexible for many more people. This trend is predicted to continue even after the pandemic.
E-Commerce and S-Commerce
Though e-commerce was the buzzword a decade ago, many small businesses still don’t have an online presence for sales or a digital payment channel owing to the nature of their businesses, coupled with a resistance to change. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly increased awareness of digital technologies, and more and more people have been jumping on the bandwagon, including brand new websites, online stores, and digital payment using card machines and online wallets.
They now understand that business is much smoother, more efficient, and more profitable if they embrace digital technologies. The e-commerce trend has also taken on a new form, s-commerce or social media commerce. Many small businesses find social channels highly beneficial for sales, communication, and payments as the number of people using social media and online shopping is ever on the rise, as is the availability of high-speed internet.
Data and AI-based Marketing
With a high value of online transactions being conducted every day, human efforts fall short in capturing the full picture. We are already in the era of Big Data and advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). They are already widely used in customer service for the recommendation of products and answering queries.
However, 2021 will witness a new leap in this sphere. Instead of merely helping customers find the right products, AI and associated technologies will also start assisting companies in finding the right customers for their products. Advanced algorithms will tell the business how to find the best market, where to advertise their products and the right time to sell a particular product.
Customizing products is not a new concept and provides a more interactive experience during the purchasing process. It is not widespread, but it is heading towards becoming the norm next year. More and more well-known brands have shown a high level of interest in product customization, thanks to the increasing affordability of emerging technologies such as AI, 3D printing and cloud computing.
This will mean that you can decide the features of many products from Nike shoes to Rolls Royce cars from the comfort of your home. This won’t be limited to big brands: it won’t be too long before we see the trend even at the level of small businesses.
Customer Privacy and Security
With more and more customers becoming cyber security-conscious, customer privacy and security is emerging as a highly critical area that businesses will focus on more than ever in the coming year. Most customers are aware of what’s at stake when they sign up to an online platform with their private credentials.
Stories of costly data breaches are in the news every day, and even big names like the Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg have had to face legal action. We’ve seen new amendments such as stringent GDPR regulations with penalties higher than ever. Such a scenario compels every business to implement high-level cybersecurity safeguards. The risk of a breach of sensitive and confidential customer data is even higher when third-parties are involved.
2021 is not likely to see drastically new concepts, but rather the next year will witness a boost in many existing business strategies and technologies. The COVID-19 pandemic will likely put a limit on completely new ideas, which makes the coming year essentially an extension of the present one, seeking to accomplish some of the half-done tasks.
The concept of remote work will be here to stay. Other trends will emphasize the importance of the customer, acceleration in digitization and building on the backbone of emerging technologies.