Thinking ahead to the future can be a scary thing, especially for a small business owner struggling to stay ahead in the present day. Advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence and automation are seeping into our daily lives and taking over our workplaces. Jobs that used to be done solely by people are being slowly replaced by automated systems and robots. Already, you can order groceries with the touch of a button right on your phone and get them delivered to your doorstep within hours. What will happen to the small corner grocery store and the people who work there if no one wants to go to a physical grocery store or restaurant anymore? Food delivery apps such as UberEats, GrubHub, DoorDash, and Postmates have shaken up the restaurant industry as restaurant owners now need to make different considerations for the presence of food delivery workers. Some restaurant owners are even opting to get rid of tables and chairs all together and just have space to get food ready for couriers. Online and delivery app orders can bring a great deal of revenue to a restaurant, as long as the restaurant owner prepares for it. The future can be an exciting time, and we can’t avoid facing the changes and shifts that lie ahead. What you can do though, as a small business owner, is prepare for it.
AI has made huge advancements in the past decade, including several notable ones in 2018. If you have been talking to Siri or virtual assistants on other devices, then you’ve already joined the wave of people taking advantage of these new technologies. Google also revealed a new technology called “Duplex” that can actually have what sound like human conversations, to do tasks such as making restaurant reservations. People in the majority of the U.S. states already have access to this AI if you own one of Google’s Pixel phones. You can’t even tell that you’re actually speaking to a robot as Duplex can say words like “hmmm” and “uh” to make conversations sound even more natural.
As a small business owner, you can actually take advantage of AI to help your business grow. If your business doesn’t have one already, consider employing an AI chatbot that can provide immediate answers to customer inquiries. These chatbots can be added to your website and save you a lot of time when it comes to customer service and support. If you’re skeptical how a robot can provide customer service, think again: AI chatbots can make sense of grammar and sentence structure to figure out exactly how to help the customer. Using a chatbot can really help you boost customer service but make sure you make them user friendly, giving customers clear options to help answer their questions as well as an option to talk to a live person if they need to.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
When it comes to Virtual reality and augmented reality, many people still don’t understand exactly what they mean. If you’re one of those people, you’re not alone, as VR and AR are seemingly new technologies and are still developing in new ways every day. VR has showed up in many ways so far including the form of a headset that allows you to play video games and makes you feel like you’re right in the game. AR is a newer concept and scientists are still working on new and creative ways to make use of it, including many ways that can help you as a small business owner. Augmented reality takes real world objects and things in the environment around you and you can interact with it using technology. For example, some companies that sell furniture (like Ikea), have a function on their app that takes furniture you’re thinking of buying and allows you to use your phone or tablet to see how certain pieces of furniture would look like in your home. You can see more examples of AR here.
You can prepare for the takeover of VR and AR in businesses now by getting ahead and investing yourself. Now, many retail businesses, grocery stores, and other businesses that sell goods or products of any kind can enable customers to use their smartphone and hold the product up to the camera of their phone, which recognizes the item and then can give the customer information on the product. This information can include price, calorie content if the item is food, and allow customers to add this product to a list on their phone or view available coupons. In the end, this helps the customer make a better decision when it comes to buying your goods. A notable example is the Target Cartwheel app, which allows customers to scan a product and view the price, coupons, and gives you the option to add the item to an online shopping card or to a shopping list. Having a service that does this can greatly improve your customer service and help you retain customers even as technology keeps advancing. Don’t be discouraged by the high price point of some VR and AR technologies. As these become more popular and competition increases, the prices of these technologies may become more affordable for small business owners.
Robots have begun to make their way into the work space unlike ever before, showing the potential for humans to be replaced with machines. The Swiss company ANYbotics created a robot that can perform infrastructure inspections and check certain safety features. Transportation companies like Uber are already testing driverless cars, which would take away the need for a human driver, thus, taking away millions of jobs. People that work in manufacturing and packaging and shipping industries may soon see a loss in jobs as automation and robots can now do these jobs. From 2000 to 2010, Canada and the U.S. saw a 5.6 million drop in factory jobs. 85 percent of that loss was due to automation. Now, these robots can put together products and package them up to be shipped including electronics, cars, and home appliances.
Besides the obvious job loss associated with the take over of robots and automated systems, there are many benefits. Morgan Stanley predicts that from 2035-2050, driverless cars will save the U.S. $1.3 trillion annually. Not only that, but self-driving cars may help decrease the chance of accidents, help clear traffic jams, and are more energy efficient. As far as manufacturing, packaging and shipping go, robots can actually help increase output as they’ve greatly increased manufacturing output in recent years. Also, according to a recent study, humans still perform 72 percent of manufacturing jobs, as some tasks require the touch and care of a human hand. So don’t worry, robots haven’t completely taken over yet and you can still thrive as a business without having to worry about hiring robots just yet.
Food Delivery Services
It’s no surprise that food delivery services have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years. All you have to do is go on an app such as UberEats or GrubHub, look at a menu, order food in seconds, and have it delivered to your door shortly after. Who wouldn’t want to do that? The upside: it’s created even more jobs as you need someone to deliver the food. According to App Annie, a market-data firm, and research firm Cowen and Co., as of 2018 the number of food delivery app downloads went up by 380 percent (compared to three years prior). You can also now get groceries delivered to your doorstep. Amazon has Amazon Fresh where you can pick out groceries online or on the app and get them delivered in as fast as the same day. There are also companies now that sell subscriptions to meal kits, where you can get a whole meal delivered to your home that involves minimal prep work. These companies focus on eating healthy and getting people to cook, but with little effort. HelloFresh sends you step-by-step recipes with nutritional information and pre-measured ingredients.
Don’t panic just yet, App Annie and Cowen and Co. also predict that over the next four years restaurant delivery sales will rise to $76 billion in the next four years. So it doesn’t appear as though restaurants are losing out. All you need to do is adapt to this changing space. A lot of restaurants now a days don’t buy as many tables or chairs and have a space dedicated to prepare food for couriers. Some restaurants have a designated area for food delivery workers to enter and leave. With this food in delivery services, you can bring a different source of revenue to your restaurant you might have no before. Even if you’re not on one of these apps, considering having your own employees deliver food, that way everything can be done in house.
Policy Changes ($15 Minimum Wage)
One thing that is starting to panic small business owners is the possibility of a $15 minimum wage. In April of 2017, the Senate Democrats introduced legislation that would raise minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024. This has many small business owners worried as they wonder how they will find the funds to pay their employees. There are more than 20 states that have already adopted this policy. While it can be easier for larger corporations to take this increased pay on, smaller businesses aren’t so fortunate.
Luckily, as a small business owner there are many ways you can prepare to take on this wage hike. The most obvious is to simply raise prices which should hopefully even out the cost of the increased wages. Since you as the business owner now have higher costs, increasing prices thas the customers sort of take on some of the new expenses. Then everything will equalize because of the higher wages and it’ll be like it was before the increase. There are also other things you can do without having to increase prices, but that will increase your revenue. Try new, free ways of marketing by using social media to advertise your products or services to customers. You can offer other incentives to draw people in like customer loyalty programs where customers collect points with each purchase which add up to some sort of reward. Maybe partner with other companies in your area to increase profits for both of you. Read about other ways to draw in customers and increase your profits in our article on 14 Top Market Trends to Follow to Grow Your Business in 2019. Finally, despite the downside of increase costs on your end, your employees still need to get paid and deserve the same amount of your time and energy and they did before. Putting more focus on your employee’s experience can actually help you in the end. A study from the Center for American Progress found that the cost to replace an employee is actually one-fifth of their annual salary. So put more thought and care into hiring hardworking and dedicated workers that have good histories with previous employers. If higher up positions come up, prioritize your current workers for these jobs. This way you don’t have to spend extra time and money looking for help outside, but your employees will feel valued that you prioritize them.
The future is inevitable, and so are these technological and societal changes. As things become easier for people to do, like ordering food and groceries, and machines can replace time consuming tasks like driving, society will no doubt embrace these advancements. But it doesn’t have to mean all bad things for you as a small business owner. Start coming up with new ways to improve your service and sell your goods and services. Taking advantage of advancements in things like VR and AR can really attract a younger generation and drive up profits for your business. The way to survive is to prepare, and make sure you’re informed. Make sure you’re keeping up with these tech improvements and that you are just generally aware of what is going on around you. That way, you won’t be met with shock if minimum wage does reach that $15 per hour in all 50 states. Embrace the future and you might find even more success in your business. No one exactly knows what the future will bring, but if you’re ready to face it head on, you’re already ahead of a lot of other people.