During lockdown, digital tools have provided a safety net for small businesses. Most European Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) have been forced to close physical premises, furloughing staff or (if they are able) moving online, offering services via websites, or through takeaways and deliveries. Some have joined platforms (such as food delivery platforms) that offer them technological solutions and put them in touch with customers remotely.

In fact, the OECD argues that online platforms will be central to the digital transformation of SMEs, increasing customer bases and enabling small businesses in particular to “reach scale without mass”. However, at the same time, they caution that “online platforms can also raise risks related to competition distortions, reputational damage, and digital security or lock-ins, especially for SMEs”.

Will SMEs stay digital? Once SMEs have taken their first steps in the digital world, are they going to continue using digital tools once the pandemic has (eventually) abated? Will customers prefer to keep buying from SMEs digitally after lockdown? Or will they want to get back to brick-and-mortar shopping as soon as possible?

Want to learn more about how European businesses have been using technology to respond to challenges posed by the pandemic? Check out our infographic below (click for a bigger version):

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in by Piotr, who says: “Technology can definitely provide a much needed lifeline to many businesses. Just look at the number of shops that have moved their operations online. Apps like Uber Eats and Deliveroo have enabled several restaurants to keep their heads above the surface.”

Has the pandemic pushed SMEs to go digital? And (just as importantly) will they stay digital once social distancing rules have been relaxed? To get a response, we put Piotr’s comment to Valeria Valotto, Head of Public Affairs and Fundraising at Progetto Quid, an Italian SME specialising in sustainable and ethical clothing and accessories. How would she respond?

For another perspective, we also spoke to Selin Song, Vice President of EMEA Google Customer Solutions at Google. How would she respond?

We also put Piotr’s comment to Jake Ward, President of the Connected Commerce Council (3C), a membership organisation for small businesses powered by digital (which has recently published a report on digital providing a safety net for small businesses during the pandemic).

Next, we had a more critical comment from Jurre, who says “Technology isn’t going to save most SMEs. Either support them financially through the crisis or establish an SME investment fund to restart business after the crisis is over.”

To get a response, we put Jurre’s comment to Carlos Zorrinho, a Portuguese MEP who sits with the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament, and a member of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. How would he respond to Jurre?

Has the pandemic pushed European SMEs to go digital? Can technology help support small businesses through the crisis? Will they stay digital once the pandemic is over? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers for their reactions!

Image Credits: BigStock – (c) vichie81
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45 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Tom

    Businesses that have previously been digital will stay the same, those that have decided to transfer to digital will probably revert back.

  2. avatar
    David

    Yes, I would say it has and that they will stey once the pandemic is over.

  3. avatar
    Sabrina

    yes, Covid-19 pandemic has pushed small businesses to go digital and they will thay also after pandemic

  4. avatar
    Ze

    Defenitely. And for those who did so quickly, the pandemic economic crisis hit with less intensity. Jake Ward said that more than half of the businesses that adopted a more digital approach to their business are planning on staying in that route. I honestly think that the real number will be substancially more than half. Especially since that is the only way forward.

  5. avatar
    Funi

    That varies. I don’t think you can make a general statement. Some have digitised, some of them keep it, others have not digitised, most of them will not digitise in the future. But I don’t have an overview of how big the individual groups are.

  6. avatar
    Chicca

    It’s anecdotal at best, but in my immediate area no small business has turned digital at all. The most they did was open a Facebook page to advertise their products, which they kept selling offline. When I think of the services I use the most as a consumer, they already were completely digital, but what they did was increase their online presence, through investments on e-commerce platforms for instance. In both instances, though, both types of small businesses will stay digital, most definitely.

  7. avatar
    Martin K. M.

    Yes, absolutely, and I believe that the vast majority of them will stay digital post-pandemic, too. Why? Because not only there are heaps of benefits to e-commerce, but the current situation has also challenged many small business owners to seek improvement and conquer new markets in a way previously unimaginable.

  8. avatar
    Liz

    We will, but lot will not be able to run their physical operations and digital operations once lockdown has lifted

  9. avatar
    Ainm

    I think it has because for a lot of them they realised the option was either don’t work or else go digital. I think some will continue to be digital but a lot of older managers or old-fashioned mentality will push for their businesses to be back operating physically as it is what they are used to and they feel the same amount of work isn’t being done.

  10. avatar
    Jaime

    Of course the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed small business to go digital: if people can’t go outside (or not as much), the only way to sell their products and services is online. Either that, or those business can’t sell at all, and therefore they must close. However, once the restrictions are gone thanks to the vaccines, I think part of those business will reopen their “physical” activity

  11. avatar
    JF

    So so… 50/50. As à Sales manager…. Not easy to implement.

  12. avatar
    Malgorzata

    yep. Sure the corporations wanting to invade our homes and annex them are ‘for’, no doubt.

    • avatar
      Bruno

      Malgorzata S Danicka ‘invade’? ‘annex’? what are you on about? I like working from home. It saves me time and I am left in peace. Why do you talk as if your home is being invaded?

    • avatar
      Irene

      Bruno van Dooren I’d have thought companies would appreciate not paying for offices and all that comes with that. I doubt they care much about ‘invading’ homes etc because there’s nothing in it for them.

    • avatar
      Malgorzata

      Bruno van Dooren are you 4 years old and thinking that what’s good for you is good for everybody or do you have an interest in corporate home-grab propaganda?

    • avatar
      John

      Malgorzata S Danicka Right, I’m sure employers love not being able to stare at your screen from behind you and summon you to physical meetings.

    • avatar
      Malgorzata

      Irene Bottomley of course they don’t care. Landlords in XVII century England did not care when they robbed peasants of their land either – they just had interest in having more land for their sheep, and cheap.

    • avatar
      Boris

      Malgorzata S Danicka you obviously haven’t done a single hour of work in your life

    • avatar
      Irene

      Malgorzata S Danicka lol. The sheep would be have been Scotland and Ireland, it wasn’t ‘landlords’ as such it was the landed aristocracy. It was in the 18th and 19th century.

    • avatar
      Bruno

      Malgorzata S Danicka you have a serious persecution complex. I like working from home. I am not being robbed of anything. Your earlier comment accused me of lack of imagination. I am connected to systems in a secure location all day long, whether i am woeking from home or an office building. My colleagues are in different locations anyway. Why on earth do you think i should feel ‘invade’ or taken advantage of?I work my hours snd then turn off my computer. It works for me. Yet here you are insisting i should go back to driving to the site and back in rush traffic and lose an hour every day because … why?You are saying just because it doesn’t work for everyone, the ones for whom it does should not be allowed to

    • avatar
      Bruno

      Irene Bottomley Right now we have to work from home by government mandate. But the results have been so positive that our company -after years of holding it back- has reversed its position and allows anyone with a desk job to work from home a couple of days per week if they choose to. The experiences in my department are so positive that our entire department is going to do just that. If you sign up, you get office equipment, and compensation for internet connection.My boss was sceptical for years. But 4 weeks in, he told us he had to change his opinion. More work gets done, and people are generally happier and more relaxed, and have more time for the family because there is no commute anymore.

    • avatar
      Irene

      Bruno van Dooren sounds good, you are disciplined enough to make it work anyway and I know that if there was any ‘invasion’ lol you’d repel it with avengance! People here are still being told to work from home if they can, if I hadn’t been retired I couldn’t have done but if I’d had a different type of job it could have worked happily from home.

    • avatar
      Irene

      Boris Fravaglio well she certainly hasn’t worked on her British history.

    • avatar
      Irene

      Bruno van Dooren I’ve always worked in professions that involved not being in an office if I could help it lol. It’s always involved working shifts which I enjoyed even though they aren’t good for you, I like working with teams of people as long as I was in charge lol. My work was always challenging and every day different, though to be totally honest I really like being retired.

  13. avatar
    Bruno

    Yes I am all for. It saves me time and allows me to work in peace.

    • avatar
      Malgorzata

      Bruno van Dooren well, perhaps your hous is big and imagination small.

  14. avatar
    Kevin

    I love it, would like to do it permanently

  15. avatar
    John

    100% in favor of teleworking!Lockdown has proven that a lot of our jobs can be done remotely. Managers don’t want to admit that because: (1) it implies a loss of control over their underlings and (2) companies still have to pay rent for unoccupied office space.

  16. avatar
    Malgorzata

    Amazing how naive people are. So for the ‘comfort’ of staying in pajamas we are ready to give up ANY work-life balance. Corporate grabbers love that: so much office space for free, all bills put on the workers, and slaves available 24/7. What’s not to like.

    • avatar
      Boris

      Malgorzata S Danicka Hello, this is planet Earth, where corporate grabbers ALREADY amass workers into cubicle jails, put every bill on them and have slaves available 24/7. Teleworking instead avoids niceties as dormitory neighborhoods, commuting hours, wasting considerable shares of your wages into corporate PR nonsense, not considering freelancers can cut expenses AND raise their pay without charging more.

  17. avatar
    Boris

    “certain psychologists” can go find a real job for a change. Teleworking is the best thing since computers were invented.

  18. avatar
    Stefaan

    After a full year of homeworking I have had it. I prefer the office.

  19. avatar
    Quentin

    5 days a week is definetively not a good balance ..

  20. avatar
    Inge

    I prefer it, cause it’s less of a hassle to drive around. Less time wasted on driving around. Less stress from being in traffic and in a hurry to get there in time. A lot familie/work balance friendly. Paying a lot less daycare if I can sacrifice my lunchtime into 2x 15min to drop of pickup my son. I would be more eager to do over hours. Now every 15 minutes in the afters school care counts and I need to pay. So when my time is up I rush to my car to keep that bill low. Being in traffic makes me fustrated and tired. So my evening is pretty much gone cause I’ll be in bed with backpain from being way too long in my crappy Dacia that provides zero comfort.

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