A Peek at Some of the Trends That Will Impact Businesses in 2019
It’s a few weeks into 2019, but there’s still time to peer into the crystal ball to see what the year will hold for businesses. There are many articles on the internet with experts predicting how 2019 will play out in the business world, and you could read all of them — or you can let me boil them down to a few major trends.
Dealing with Customers
Payment choices: Customers want choices, not so much in the products themselves as in how they pay for those products.
Just when most businesses have finally adjusted to chip technology in credit cards, the growing trend for 2019 will be tap or wave payments. These payment options allow a customer to simply tap a credit card, or wave it in front of, a card reader. Options also exist to pay directly from a smartphone or even a smartwatch.
Another growing trend is alternative payment options, like PayPal or other digital banking accounts, and even bitcoin, if that market rebounds.
Shipping convenience: Customers will become increasingly impatient for the products they order. According to one survey, 60 percent of online shoppers browse for products according to their shipping preferences, and some say they would spend more for a product if free shipping is available.
Personalization: Research shows that most consumers want to work with stores that offer a personalized experience that, again, offers choices. Many online companies now offer chatbots or automated assistants to help customers pinpoint exactly what they want.
Coupons or special offers through apps and social media also are popular, especially those that cater to a customer’s geographic area or personal preferences. An example of that might be a coffee shop that sends a coupon to a customer who prefers cold drinks and a different coupon to someone who prefers hot drinks.
New marketing strategies: Along with increased personalization, user reviews will continue to be the deciding factor for many consumers. That will make your online presence more important, and quick responses to negative reviews will be vital. Retweeting positive customer comments help spread the word and create brand loyalty.
Customers are also looking for more realistic ad campaigns, featuring pictures of the local store rather than a generic national campaign or stock photos. Apps that offer rewards for various buying choices will continue to be popular with customers, which is also a win for the store because they create brand loyalty and repeat sales.
Don’t close the store: While customers like the convenience of online shopping at midnight, there is still a huge interest in going to brick-and-mortar stores. More than 85 percent of the nation’s retail sales still happen within a store, and brick-and-mortar stores are expected to account for 50 percent of all retail growth in 2019.
Dealing with employees
Stay flexible: Ubiquitous access to the internet has created an atmosphere that allows people to stay connected wherever they are. Because of that, employees are increasingly able to perform part or all of their jobs from almost anywhere.
Case in point: I recently met a woman who works for a company in Indiana but lives in Hawaii. She makes one or two annual trips to company headquarters but otherwise does all her work 4,000 miles and five time zones away.
While that might be an extreme case, an employee who does most of his or her work via laptop can often perform the task as easily from home or a coffee shop as in a corporate office. Research shows that flexibility often increases productivity and creates employee loyalty.
Tap into the gig economy: Many companies now prefer to hire independent contractors rather than permanent employees. These are often people on short-term contracts or working on a freelance basis for a specific job that needs to be performed within a specific time frame or on a sporadic basis, when it wouldn’t make sense to hire a permanent, full-time employee.
While an independent contractor may charge more than you’d pay in wages to a permanent employee, you save in the long run by not having to pay for benefits such as health insurance and state employment taxes. Just keep in mind, though, that the IRS has specific rules about what you can or can’t do with an independent contractor, so consult your accountant about the best strategies for your company in the gig economy of 2019 and beyond.
Be socially responsible: Younger employees frequently want to work only for companies that are socially responsible. “Socially responsible” can mean a variety of things, from the types of products made, a green work environment and investing strategies. It also often includes creating volunteering opportunities for your employees to help local charitable organizations.
Some companies that make charitable contributions allow their employees to submit the names of their favorite local charities for consideration for funding.
Nanodegrees: These are especially important in the technology sector, where things change rapidly. It’s possible for a person’s four-year college training to be almost obsolete a year after graduation. Nanodegrees or certifications allow employees to learn new technologies, computer programs and online platforms that can be a boost both to an individual and to the company as a whole.
One company I know allowed employees to pursue individual certifications in various programs. As a result, the company landed a lucrative contract because one of their employees had obtained certification in the specific platform the client needed.
Running your business
Customer service: The internet has made virtually all products available to anyone with a computer or smartphone, often at a lower price than physical stores can offer. But one area few online merchants have truly mastered is customer service.
Given that customers still enjoy shopping in brick-and-mortar stores and still prefer relationships, customer service is more important than ever in retail businesses — and in B2B businesses, as well. Like the tagline in the old sitcom Cheers, everyone wants to go where everybody knows your name.
While you might not be able to know every customer that intimately, a welcoming atmosphere and personal attention can go a long way toward turning a casual shopper into a loyal customer.
Cybersecurity isn’t just for the big guys: With more and more technology becoming involved in running a business, the likelihood of a cyberattack increases. Small businesses are often more vulnerable simply because they don’t focus much on cybersecurity.
Cybersecurity is not only important for your personal and business protection, but also to protect your customers. With increasingly more information stored digitally, the threat of a security breach that could endanger your customers’ information becomes more real.
Augusta is becoming a hotspot for cybersecurity, and many local firms offer affordable protection packages for small businesses, so there’s no excuse to not be protected.
Alternative lending sources: Banks are no longer the only place where a small business can get a loan. Alternative lenders have triple the acceptance rate than banks. Kabbage, an Atlanta-based online lending company, provides more than $10 million daily in small business loans. Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending is also growing as a popular way to fund startups.
The world is your oyster: An online presence means you can sell anywhere in the world. Georgia is already known for trade, thanks to an international airport hub and a major ocean port. Expand your horizons to see where you can tap into an international market.