Visa On Giving SMBs A Digital-First Boost This Holiday Season

Riskified Helps Merchants' Holiday Conversions

In a normal year, the holiday season is an incredibly busy time.

In between the mad rush to close out the business year, retailers and restaurants prep for what they hope is the most wonderful time of their year for making sales. Restaurants, in particular, look to cash in on the holiday rush as businesses book holiday parties and friends and families gather in their establishments to celebrate over good food and drink.

But 2020 isn’t a normal year, Visa’s Global Head of Business Solutions Kevin Phalen told Karen Webster on the eve of National Small Business Week, and restaurateurs, like every other Main Street business everywhere now brace for a holiday season without precedent.

This year is, however, a year that exemplifies what makes small- to medium-sized business (SMBs) such a powerful backbone of the world’s economy. It’s something that Phalen said is exemplified by entrepreneurs such as the owner operator of Miami’s Cheeseburger Baby, Stephanie Vitori, who, like many SMB owners, is embracing out-of-the-box solutions to keep sales growing and businesses and consumers celebrating.

“She’s pivoting to, ‘How do I do more with my food truck to take it to places where people may have small celebrations [that she can support], including frontline and other essential workers who need food support,” Phalen told Webster.

She’s not unusual, Phalen said. As National Small Business Week launches this week, he said that one of Visa’s biggest hopes is that the world will take note of how resilient and creative these businesses can be when it comes to keeping their core businesses alive during the holiday season and beyond.

The glimmer of hope for Main Street SMBs is that consumers say that they still plan to buy and give gifts this holiday season — some 88 percent of consumers, according to those surveyed as part of the Visa’s Back to Business Study, Holiday Edition. These consumers, will, however, be shopping differently, with eCommerce representing a disproportionately large slice of their sales. The good news, Phalen said, is that 60 percent of the SMBs that participated in Visa’s study said they have already taken steps to capitalize on that shift. But that leaves 40 percent of SMBs that have not.

All of this only underscores the sense of urgency and the importance of Visa’s commitment heading into National Small Business Week, he said, to give 50 million SMBs access to the Visa network and ecosystem over the next three years the “full set of assets, including payments, that they need to develop and grow their business.”

Growing the Omnichannel Tent

In celebration of National Small Business Week, Visa will co-host a three-day virtual summit called the What’s Next Fest in partnership with the Female Founder Collective (FFC). Attendees will receive “expert guidance” on navigating one of the most challenging years in retail history. As part of that virtual event, Visa and IFundWomen will announce the extension of a grant program to India and award 25 grants and annual coaching memberships to Black female-owned SMBs, doubling the size of that program.

“We used to host in-person events in New York and LA and bring together hundreds of female entrepreneurs, but we thought, ‘Why not make it virtual, and why not make it global,” Phalen explained.

The theme “how do we make it more global” runs through next week’s planned announcement, as well as including the latest iteration of the Visa Street Teams initiatives designed to get SMBs directly connected to those who can set them on the right digital path.

Visa Street Teams were launched in June as part of Visa’s push to create SMB hubs in 20 countries worldwide. Since then, Phalen said, the program has been expanded to 66 cities and 185,000 Main Street businesses to give them access to the tools, guidance and payments infrastructure to offer digital-first experiences to their customers.

Making them virtual is all about scale and getting to as many SMBs that need and want the guidance.

The Road Forward

Main Street businesses have been undeniably hit hard by the pandemic. According to PYMNTS data, Main Street businesses remain cash strapped, and a significant minority remain unsure if they will survive to see the end of it. Many can’t afford a soft holiday season after the rough ride they’ve taken through the year 2020. Implementing contactless, touchless and QR code payments helps those businesses create a more comfortable sales and checkout environment for their customers, and digital-first initiatives like curbside pickup and delivery helps them meet the consumers’ desire for convenience. Digital marketplaces and instant settlement give these businesses essential customer acquisition and cash flow lifelines.

SMBs, Phalen said, now understand that moving to digital isn’t a stopgap to help them navigate the pandemic, but a necessary shift on the road to their recovery and how business will get done. Now what they need is a good guide to help them navigate that future.

“When our Street Teams talk to small businesses, what they hear back from them is, ‘We know we need to pivot our business. How do we do it? How do we get the information, the learning and the understanding to do it?’ Answering those questions is what [Visa] is committed doing,” Phalen explained.