Trends can be fleeting or become business as usual.
From mobile marketing to leveraging user reviews, these current small business trends are only going to continue to grow. — Getty Images/VioletaStoimenova

The ever-changing news cycle can make it difficult for merchants to parse which trends are temporary and which here to stay. Some trends are hot one minute and gone the next. Smart small business owners stay the course and focus on the business at hand. But sometimes micro-trends turn into macro-trends. When that happens, it’s time to take notice and figure out how your business is going to adapt and harness the power of innovation to respond.

Here are eight trends your business needs to know about now.

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

Attracting Gen Zers — as customers and employees

Generation Z is the term that defines those born between 1995 and 2015. These individuals make up one of the largest consumer groups despite the fact that some Gen Zers are younger than age 10. According to research by Hubspot, Gen Z already controls $200 billion in direct spending and influences more than $600 billion in spending by their parents. Members of this demographic are expected to account for 40% of all consumer purchases by the end of this year.

For small business owners, Gen Z presents a powerful customer group that requires a slightly different marketing approach to millennials. They’re true digital natives — the first generation to have grown up completely immersed in the internet. For this group, smartphones, touch screens and apps have been the norm since birth. As a result, Gen Z members have strong tech skills, the ability to multitask, and the desire for personalized, one-to-one consumer/brand experiences.

Likewise, Gen Z will likely make up a big portion of your workforce in the near future. These digital natives expect their work to mean something. One in four Gen Zers volunteer in their spare time. Small business owners can tap into that desire for impact by communicating your “why.” Why did you start this business? What drove you to become an expert in your field? Show your passion for serving customers and participating in your community when recruiting Gen Z employees. Provide the opportunity for these individuals to connect with customers and take initiative to work on something that has a deeper impact.

Embracing mobile, in more ways than one

You’ve been hearing the importance of having a mobile-optimized website for a while. Now, small businesses must examine other ways to make their business operations mobile-friendly. Three emerging mobile trends for small businesses include:

  • Mobile payments: Mobile payments are a trend impacting in-store transactions as well as e-commerce. Customers want to make a payment using their phone through a solution like Apple Pay, Google Wallet and Civic.
  • Mobile marketing: According to one report, “Thirty-two percent of shoppers changed their minds about purchasing items after checking out the product information on their mobiles within brick-and-mortar stores.” Mobile marketing allows brands to capture the attention of shoppers at key decision points, something that small businesses can capitalize on.
  • Mobile customer support: Fifty-seven percent of customers would rather reach out to companies online than over the phone. Social media has emerged as one of the fastest ways for customers to get attention in instances of a customer support issue — and much of that contact happens through an app. Make sure you’re monitoring your social media channels and direct messages for customers sending their concerns via mobile.
  • Mobile employee communication: Mobile will also become a key part of your employee communication strategy as millennials take on managerial roles and Gen Z enters the workforce. “Emails, intranet, phone calls or meetings where 73% of attendees aren’t paying attention are all outdated methods to spread your message effectively to your employees. In order to boost employee communication, more businesses are shifting to using communication apps — doing so strengthens productivity, lifts engagement, reduces misunderstandings, and so much more,” writes one expert.

Small businesses that encourage reviews across multiple platforms see an increase in web traffic to their main site.

Leveraging user reviews

User reviews are one of the most powerful ways to influence customers to buy into your brand. Positive feedback builds brand trust: A five-star review from an unbiased source is perceived as more reliable than any of your paid marketing campaigns.

Reviews not only help encourage customers to make a purchase — they also boost your marketing and SEO efforts. Small businesses that encourage reviews across multiple platforms see an increase in web traffic to their main site. Likewise, smart business owners mine customer reviews for new insights they can use to better target their marketing campaigns. For instance, if your restaurant’s reviews constantly mention how good your coffee is, make coffee the primary focus of your website to help others discover your most popular offering. Turn to user reviews for keyword research, information on your competitors and testimonials you can use in your marketing efforts.

[Read more: How to Encourage Customers to Leave Good Online Reviews]

Direct-to-consumer (D2C) sales

Before the internet changed everything, manufacturers needed middlemen. If a product wasn’t on a retail shelf, consumers didn’t know it existed. While lots of merchandise is still sold that way, it’s no longer the only way. Enter: direct-to-consumer.

As it turns out, if you have a quality offering, an excellent return policy and first-class customer service, you can sell just about anything without a middleman.

For D2C companies, the advantages include control of the customer experience from start to finish and access to customer data. Consumers get quality products at competitive prices backed by responsive customer service. It adds up to a win-win, which is why D2C has a bright future.

Flexible work arrangements

Flex work—broadly defined as any departure from the standard nine-to-five office routine—encompasses everything from remote work, to flexible hours, to job sharing.

In a tight labor market, offering flexible schedules can result in better hires and happier employees. According to ManpowerGroup Solutions, 40% of all applicants rate job flexibility near the top of their wish lists.

Facilitated by advances in technology and collaboration tools like Slack and Trello—the geography of the workplace will continue to evolve.

[Read more: 10 Forward-Looking Companies Offering Flexible Work]

Addressing burnout

Stress is part of the human condition. While it’s not always bad, it can potentially lead to emotional, mental and physical exhaustion. That’s referred to as “burnout” and in 2019, the World Health Organization recognized it as a growing problem — and one worthy of attention.

What’s bad for employees is bad for business, and employers are seeking ways to deal with burnout in the workplace. Meditation, yoga and mid-week time off are among the diverse strategies being employed to combat this twenty-first century problem. Companies like Ginger are introducing apps offering real time, on-demand behavior coaching.

For those who want to closely monitor their personal stress, smart devices which provide data on heart rates and sleep patterns are proliferating. Burnout isn’t good, but it’s here, and as the pace of life continues to rev up, it will continue to impact lives both inside and outside the workplace.

The continuing rise of the gig economy

The trend toward gig work—freelancing and independent contracting—rather than full-time employment, has its roots in the financial crisis of 2008. While fluid definitions and reporting gaps make it difficult to know the exact number of gig workers, Gallup estimated them in early 2019 to be 36% of all U.S. workers.

Gigs allow workers to decide when and where their work is done. It gives businesses more flexibility to scale their workforce as needed. And, at least in theory, skilled workers can name their own price.

The downside? By embracing the flexibility of gigs, workers forgo paid vacation and sick days, health insurance and company-sponsored retirement savings plans.

Still, it’s a concept that fits the needs of many. Apps like Rover, HelloTech and TaskRabbit are connecting dog walkers, tech geeks and furniture movers, respectively, with people willing to pay to get these things done. With convenience like that, the gig economy is not going away any time soon. In fact, according to CNBC, by 2027, gig workers will outnumber traditional employees.

Brick-and-mortar continuing to remain alive and well

While online spending continues to grow, it represented just 16% of retail sales for 2019. The rest of consumer spending was done in the real world, and the brick-and-mortar sector has an announcement: Reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

Case in point: Digital natives like UNTUCKit and Casper — recognizing that some customers want to touch or stretch out on the product — are opening stores in response to that desire.

Sometimes it takes more than proximity to the merchandise to get shoppers down to the mall, so savvy retailers are offering customers unique in-store experiences — from hands-on play found at newcomer CAMP and a reborn ToysRUs, to interactive spaces like the groovy American Girl space offered by Mattel.

By combining the best of the digital and physical worlds, brick-and-mortar players are offering an in-person experience that can’t be achieved online.

[Read more: The 6 Tech Trends Business Owners Need to Know About]

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 23, 2020