Millions of people work in the US gig economy.
From going green to augmented reality, there are several trends that small businesses should be aware of and consider implementing. — Getty Images/RossHelen

After years of steady growth, many entrepreneurs are keeping an eye on macro-trends that can hint at where the economy is going next. From more efficient operations to an emphasis on sustainability, high-level trends will still impact smaller merchants. Learn what your customers are expecting from their brands and begin to evolve your service accordingly. Small business owners seeking to stay ahead of the curve should keep an eye on these eight emerging business trends.

[Read more: 2020 Trends May Inspire New Business Ideas]

Task automation

Forrester Analytics predicts that companies will be looking for ways to be more efficient while saving money. “CIOs will look within their own organization for those efficiency gains, automating 10% of their IT tasks that are highly standardized and repetitive,” said their report.

Contrary to what news headlines would have you believe, task automation doesn’t mean robots are coming to steal our jobs. Instead, Forrester reports, companies will focus on upskilling their workers, investing in professional development and leaving manual, repetitive tasks to algorithms.

Going green

Sustainability may be seen as a catchy marketing hook for many organizations, but today’s consumer is serious about going green. Gen Z and millennials are especially conscious about the brands they buy from, and these two consumer groups will have the majority of purchasing power for decades to come. McKinsey research found that:

  • 70% of Gen Z survey respondents try to purchase from companies they consider ethical.
  • 65% of Gen Z respondents try to learn the origins of the products they buy.
  • 80% of Gen Z survey takers refuse to buy from companies that are involved in a scandal.

“If your products don't have any discernible environmental benefits, review your product or service offerings and see what green products or services you might add, or if there is a process change you might make that will give your product or service some green weight,” recommends one expert.

The gig economy

The so-called “gig economy” consists of a growing number of freelancers and contractors who work in temporary or flexible positions. By some estimates, there are already 57 million people already working in the US gig economy. Many of those workers are remote. Remote and gig workers tend to be more motivated, more flexible and more committed to professional development than those in traditional roles. For small businesses, remote and gig workers are a valuable way to find talent and grow your team.

[Read more: 4 Things to Consider Before Letting Your Employees Work Remotely]

Many entrepreneurs are keeping an eye on macro-trends that can hint at where the economy is going next.

Amazon’s FBA

E-commerce is growing rapidly, and for small businesses seeking to get a foothold, Fulfillment by Amazon might be the tool you’re seeking. FBA allows sellers of products to market through Amazon, reaching customers all over the world. More than 50% of units sold globally were sold by marketplace sellers on Amazon in Q2 of 2019. List your product on Amazon and avoid the headache of storage, packing, shipping and customer service. Once you ship your product to an Amazon fulfillment center, the e-retailer takes care of the rest and you pay a portion of sales to Amazon in return.

Virtual reality and augmented reality

Along with automation software, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are poised to become some of the biggest technological advances in the way brands interact with their consumers. The global market for AR and VR is predicted to expand by 34.5% from 2019 to 2025. Early adopters of VR and AR are real estate marketers, training programs, gaming and even for corporate team-building exercises.

The need for data protection

“In 2020, ransomware incidents will grow as attackers learn that holding data hostage is a quick path to monetization,” reports Forrester. Cybersecurity is already a huge problem for small business owners, and it’s not going to get better any time soon.

Analysts watching this space have noticed an uptick in the number of artificial intelligence (AI) programs being weaponized, used to enhance existing attacks by feeding more data into a smart algorithm. Natural language processors (NLPs) and video AI tools can be used by bad actors to generate fake audio and video, defrauding customers into paying thousands of dollars.

Smaller store footprints

While some companies are forgoing physical locations altogether, other small businesses are simply downsizing. Kiosks and mini-stores are on the rise, empowered by new payment systems that allow merchants to accept payments with small devices. One experiment by a retailer shifted their operations to kiosks inside a shopping mall; the small spaces generated around $1 million a year, a very impressive dollar-per-square-foot indicator.

Personalized customer service

Millennials and Gen Z consumers expect personalization from their brands. Many companies are rising to the challenge. Research firm Gartner predicts that by 2020, “smart personalization engines used to recognize customer intent will enable digital businesses to increase their profits by up to 15%.” For instance, on Amazon’s homepage each customer gets specific product suggestions based on their profile and search history. This kind of personalized service that delivers highly specific recommendations to customers is becoming the norm, rather than the exception.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published March 05, 2020