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Digital Commerce is Changing Main Streets... Could It Be For The Better?

November 28, 2022 | Digital Commerce is Changing Main Streets... Could It Be For The Better? | By: Matthew Wagner, Chief Program Officer at Main Street America |

The full version of this article is published on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) blog, Cogito. The OECD Cogito blog features insights on entrepreneurship, SMEs, tourism, and cities. Click here to read the full story.

The past two-and-a-half years have represented one of the most challenging times for Main Street businesses across the US. The global pandemic transformed the way we work and shop. While many businesses were able to weather the storm of the global pandemic shutdowns, running a small business along our Main Streets is now more complex – with managers grappling with new workforce issues, rising inflation, and greater competition from major online retailers.

Despites these pressures, I want to make the case that small businesses can use these changes to their advantage by adapting new technologies and harnessing the power of place.

The shifting consumer landscape

Prior to the pandemic, e-commerce shopping was at 10.7 percent of retail sales, which then exploded to 14 percent in 2020, and last year with the exuberance of being able to go out and shop in stores again, online sales fell back to 11.8 percent. Yet with new generations of shoppers that were born to shop online, there remains a need for Main Street businesses to have a more aggressive “bricks-n-clicks” strategy.

This transition can be a challenge for small business owners. A March 2020 survey of nearly 7,500 small business owners conducted by Main Street America revealed that 63 percent of retailers did not have an e-commerce component to their business. Of those that did, it represented only a small fraction of their sales.

In interviews with small business owners, MSA found the key barriers to greater adoption was confusion around what they needed. There are thousands of different software programs and sales platforms but nothing to guide toward a unique set of solutions. To support them, MSA developed the Main Street Online Tool, powered by GoDaddy, as a free diagnostic tool to assist businesses with understanding their unique needs for social media and digital commerce. Progress is being made, as a follow-up survey in March 2022 of nearly 1,600 small business owners showed a 10 percent increase in e-commerce usage.

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