Technology is changing the way businesses operate worldwide.
Access to game-changing technology used to be for big corporations—and big corporations only.
Well, times have changed.
As a small business owner, you can now better connect with your customers through artificial intelligence, leverage the social shopping explosion to increase sales, optimize your WiFi to improve your customer experience and even automate everything from the temperature in your store to your business security system.
Business owners nationwide are investing in technology.
Following the latest trends is key to staying relevant in this technology boom. If you want to keep your business from falling behind, there are a handful of important trends you need to keep an eye on.
So, what does the future hold for technology and small businesses?
We’ve done some digging and put together a list of seven trends every Canadian business should be paying attention to this year. Let’s take a look:
1. Canadians Have Gone Mobile
Canadians now have the power of the internet in their pocket at all times. Of course, this presents plenty of opportunity for business owners. But what are people actually using their smartphones for?
The answer is simple:
Smartphone users spend 90% of their time on mobile using apps they’ve downloaded.
More than a third of their time is spent using social media and messaging apps like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. People are scrolling through their social feeds to stay up-to-date on what their friends are doing, to follow what’s trending right now, and to find interesting content, be it blog posts, photos or videos.
As a business owner, you need to use these data insights and create interesting messaging in these channels to reach your customers.
You should also consider your WiFi connection. Customers want to stay connected and consume online content on their mobile devices without draining their data plan, which means they patronize places more frequently that offer great WiFi. Don’t let them leave frustrated; it’s worth the investment for pretty much any brick-and-mortar destination— to be more customer-friendly with quality WiFi services.
2. Voice Search Is on the Rise
Great online content about your business helps put your business on the map for user searches. At least 20% of mobile Google searches are now made by voice, and that number is expected to climb to 50% or more by 2020.
The days of typing your questions into the Google search bar are quickly changing.
When you have a question, you can ask Siri, Google or Alexa.
And the way you ask that question is just like you’re speaking to another person. For example, “Hey Siri, how cold is it outside?” or “OK Google, take me to the nearest gas station”.
It’s only a matter of time before voice search becomes the new normal:
How can your business be ready for this trend? Put yourself into the mind of your potential customer…
What are they likely to ask?
How will they phrase it?
What can you do to show up when they start searching?
Apply the answers to the content on your website and improve the chances that Siri, Alexa and Google will find your business on the map.
3. Brands Are Using Smarter WiFi
In 2016, travelers using TripAdvisor said free WiFi was more important than free breakfast when it came to amenities. More important than free food!
There’s nothing more frustrating than having to waste valuable time messing with your WiFi router. You’ve got better things to do.
A service like Managed WiFi makes it easy by ensuring your WiFi experience is seamless and consistent for your customers and your employees. Experts at companies like Eastlink can manage it all for you so you can stay focused on building your business and doing what you do best.
A good Managed WiFi provider will give you other perks too. For example:
Separate staff and customer networks ensure you still get the fastest and strongest signal even when customers are using your network to surf the web, watch videos and scroll through their social feeds. Separating the traffic also helps keep your business data more secure.
Access analytics and customer data to show you when your site is the busiest, how long customers are staying, what your staff are doing online and more.
If you have a brick and mortar store and offer high quality WiFi, customers tend to stay longer and spend more money with your business.
If you’re interested in learning more, get in touch with the experts at Eastlink.
4. Click to Chat in Seconds
Offering online chat options no longer requires someone to sit at their desk and monitor it day and night. Today, even small business owners can reap the benefits of automated chats powered by artificial intelligence.
Customers want 24/7 access to your business, and automated chat tools give them exactly what they’re looking for. If your business has an online presence, you can set up a customer service chatbot without the need for dedicated staff to answer phone calls or chat online every hour of the day.
A chatbot lets you move your customers through a list of predetermined questions created by you and offer help choosing a product in your store or much more.
So where should you start?
First, think about your product or service and what questions and decisions customers need to make before they purchase. From there, work backwards to create your list of questions and answers that would help your customers get the answers they need.
Once you know the optimal number of steps for this type of experience and the type of content you wish to share, take a look around for the best chatbot solution. There are a ton of options available right now, from Facebook Messenger bots to tools like Drift or Intercom.
5. The Rise of Internet of Things, Automated Offices and More
The last thing you want as a business owner is to get home at the end of a long day and realize you forgot to turn off the lights or activate the security system when you left.
The power of automation makes those worries a thing of the past.
It’s never been easier to automate repetitive tasks so you can stay focused on doing more complex work and making decisions that move the business forward. Here are just a few of the functions you can automate:
On a crisp Canadian winter morning, you want to make sure your customers walk into a warm store. Smart businesses use automated heating systems to adjust the indoor temperature based on the indoor and outdoor temperature, avoiding constantly tweaking the thermostat.
Or what about at the end of the day when you’re tired and just want to go home? You can keep your business secure without ever needing to stress about whether you remembered to arm the alarm on the way out.
Worried about what’s happening at your business when you’re not there? Are your staff opening and closing on time? If you can’t be there yourself, you still want to feel confident that your customers aren’t showing up to locked doors. Between video cameras that can stream to your mobile phone, or programmed alerts to let you know when your business opens or closes, automation technology can keep you informed.
Imagine the freedom of being in the know when you’re not physically present at your business. Automation solutions can be set up to send you text notifications when certain activities happen, for example checking whether your business has been opened on time by an employee or if someone has entered a secure area in your business and so on. The right automation solutions will power your business with a second set of eyes.
6. Social Shopping Goes Mainstream
In 2016, 80% of Canadian consumers went online to do their shopping. Over the recent 2017 holiday period this grew again by 14%.
Although they may not make their final purchases online every time, customers at least start the research process online. By 2020, worldwide ecommerce sales are projected to reach $4 trillion—almost 15% of all retail spending.
Right alongside this ecommerce explosion is the idea of social shopping.
The most popular social platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest have become go-to locations for small businesses to market their products. Of course, the idea of social selling isn’t exclusive to ecommerce and online stores.
Getting your customers to leave positive reviews through Google’s Local Guides can make it simple for new customers to find your products and see everything you have to offer. Seeing these positive reviews can stand as the social proof they need to visit and become a customer.
7. Adding WOW to the Customer Experience
At the end of the day, you want your customer to have the best experience possible.
You want to create a WOW moment for them. You want them so intrigued and so hooked that they can’t help but tell their friends all about you.
Two of the biggest trends businesses are using to create these wow moments right now are virtual and augmented reality.
What was once considered nothing more than a scientific pipedream is now taking over the way customers interact with the world around them—including the businesses they frequent.
What is virtual and augmented reality?
According to Inc. magazine, “Augmented reality (AR) is a way to use existing technology, like mobile devices and headsets, to augment elements of our real-world environments.”
IKEA took this concept and created IKEA Place, which lets shoppers see how furniture would look in their own home:
The exciting part for small businesses is that this AR and virtual reality (VR) functionality is becoming more and more affordable. When Apple released iOS 11 and the iPhone X, they launched a developer platform called ARkit that allows app developers to integrate augmented reality functionality into their apps.
This access has led to smaller business like 19 Crimes Wine to use the power of augmented reality to create those experiences that have customers constantly wanting more. With their app, if you open up the camera and point it toward one of their bottle labels, the label will come to life and tell a story, all from your countertop and using a mobile phone.
It’s the perfect example of how you can create a positive experience for your customers.
Say you run a jewelry or clothing store, people could use AR to “try on” your products from anywhere—you could make prospective customers fall in love with what you’re selling before they even step foot in your store.
AR can provide serious value to your customers, which is key to making sure their experience is as positive and engaging as possible.
Wrapping Things Up
From augmented reality to WiFi services, trending technology can impact the bottom line of small businesses in every industry.
Here’s a quick recap of what you should be paying attention to in 2018:
- Mobile everything
- Voice search
- Smarter WiFi
- Click to chat
- Social shopping
- Focus on customer experience
We’re not saying you need to check every single box by tomorrow, but you should consider how harnessing these trends could add value for your customers.