How Small Retailers Can Improve Customer and Associate Experiences This Holiday Season

Just when small businesses weathered the storm that was COVID, they’re now facing down supply chain challenges and inflation rates that are sure throw a Grinch in anyone’s holiday season.

But there’s a bright light on the horizon as we go into the holiday season. You’ve likely heard about with Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But there’s a spending holiday that we at Cisco are a bit more fond of – #SmallBusinessSaturday.

This Saturday, November 27, when it’s time to make your holiday list and check it twice, head to your local small businesses to help make those wishes come true. #SmallBusinessSaturday is a movement started by American Express in the U.S. in 2010. In the past 11 years, consumers have reported spending nearly $140 billion in support of local businesses on Small Business Saturday.

A year like no other

From record business closings to record small business growth (the number of new businesses in 2020 was up 24.3 percent per the U.S. Census Bureau), the past 18 months have been unprecedented for small businesses, especially retailers.

We know that running a small business is full of challenges. But running a small retail business during a global pandemic with economic and supply chain uncertainty swirling about adds several layers of complexity to an already stressful environment.

So how have owners in your communities risen to the challenge? By innovating and using technology to help them address these needs and more. Whether it’s been transitioning to online sales or upgrading infrastructure to accommodate growth, we’ve witnessed and have helped numerous small businesses and organizations adapt and accelerate their transition to our current business climate.

Retail small businesses have unique needs to address. And finding the right technology can sometimes feel like a Sisyphean task. But Cisco understands the needs of small retailers and can help them quickly identify their most pressing needs to better accelerate digital transformation and improve customer experiences this holiday season.

If small retailers were out shopping on #SmallBusinessSaturday, what solutions would be on their holiday wish lists? Here is a sampling of the technology that can help them continue to evolve their business models long after this holiday season.

Capture every sale with e-commerce

Online shopping is as popular as ever, particularly with contactless transactions and curbside pick-up remaining in high demand. Brick and mortar stores that tweaked their business models to include e-commerce solutions outlasted the worst of the pandemic and expand their businesses. In fact, 49 percent of small business owners with online stores saw a boost in sales in 2020, even in the midst of the pandemic.

Using a combination of networking solutions, collaborative cloud-based tools, and robust security offerings, retailers can best capture every opportunity and sale possible. Find a technology partner like Cisco that can help with setting up e-commerce platforms and secure networks that can integrate payment capabilities, as well as application development for incorporating click and collect services, and managing online operations.

Shore up vulnerabilities with cybersecurity solutions

All of this online activity, especially online purchases, can make small retailers more vulnerable to data breaches and cyber attacks. According to the 2021 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, 43 percent of all data breaches involved small and medium-sized businesses. Those odds aren’t great, especially when you consider that 83 percent of SMBs are not financially prepared to recover from a cyber attack.

While it’s easy to look at those statistic and become overwhelmed, securing your business-critical systems can be a simple task. First, identify what solutions you need to secure. For retailers, these can include a point-of-sale (POS) system; email and VPN connections for managing communications; and solutions for on-site store security. Finally, don’t forget to protect the entire network from cyber attacks.

Identifying your critical infrastructure gives you a clear hierarchy for where to start your cybersecurity initiative. A full understanding of your retail business’ needs – as well as working with a technology partner like Cisco – can help you create the best security infrastructure.

Improve customer and associate experiences

The shift to more online experiences has also required a shift in customer and associate engagements, too. Retailers have adapted to new ways of communicating with customers – both old and new, including virtual consultations, social media, loyalty programs, and targeted marketing. These new methods have the additional benefit of offering more frequent communication than in-store visits, highlighting how important it is to find the right digital solutions for your business.

For associates, maintaining inventory accuracy has become a top priority. Navigating interrupted supply chains on top of store service hiccups has added more complexity for retailers during the pandemic. Retailers can simplify operations by integrating retail systems so that suppliers, distributors, and workers across the value chain have visibility into product availability and location. With this added insight, associates and other stakeholders can make more timely, better informed decisions. Improved inventory visibility also enables employees to take on new roles particularly related to distribution, click and collect services, and remote operations.

Shop local this #SmallBusinessSaturday

With the holiday season now in full swing, small retailers are on the cusp of their busiest time of the year. It’s been a time of agility, adaption, and innovation for small retailers, and more digital transformation is likely to come as the fallout of both the pandemic and supply chain issues continue. In the meantime, small retailers can accelerate digital transformation and improve customer experiences well into the new year with new technology.

And as consumers, I hope you’ll make it a point to support small businesses this Saturday. If you’re on social media, join the conversation by tagging your favorite small business and sharing why you love them. Be sure to use the hashtag #SmallBusinessSaturday.

For more information on Cisco’s solutions for retailers, check out our retail portfolio explorer. For our full Cisco Small Business portfolio, visit our Cisco Small Business site.

To learn more about how Cisco and our partner community address the needs of small and mid-size retailers, read the latest issue of our quarterly publication Dynamo.

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