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Community
May 5, 2020

COVID-19 Challenges Small Businesses and Sparks Innovation

COVID-19 is impacting communities around the globe. In the US, unemployment filings reached a record breaking 6.6 million in just the first week of April alone. Businesses of all sizes and across all industries are feeling immense pressure, but the effects on small businesses (SMBs) are catastrophic. Many companies don’t have enough capital to continue and are shutting down operations, with few being able to ride out the storm. However, as businesses in every industry struggle to adjust to this new normal, many are getting creative and pivoting to find new ways of connecting with their customers and contribute to their communities.

With about 95% of the US population under some form of shelter-in-place orders, access to supplies, particularly food, has become especially challenging. While going to the grocery store is permitted, many citizens don't feel comfortable with the potential risks, leaving them entirely reliant on friends, family, or delivery services. Postmates, a leading food delivery service, recognized their unique importance to the communities and quickly adapted their service to meet the new need for minimal interaction. Just two days after the shelter-in-place order went into effect in California Postmates rolled out “Contactless Delivery” which enables customers access to meal deliveries without having to risk face-to-face interaction. This small shift in the way their service operates signaled a wave of change coming to businesses across the country.

Small Businesses (SMBs) Pivot in Response COVID-19 Challenges

Restaurant suppliers aren’t receiving the order volumes they rely on from restaurants themselves and are getting creative to maintain revenue and get their goods into the hands of customers. Water2Table Fish Co is a San Francisco based seafood supplier that services the needs of high-end restaurants across the Bay Area. As restaurant orders suddenly and dramatically slowed, Water2Table rolled out a direct-to-consumer model that offers customers high-quality seafood products delivered straight from the source. The change enables them to maintain their staff while reaching consumers in an entirely new way.

The pivots are being seen beyond just food and delivery services, Spire Law is a Florida based firm that specializes in employment litigation and is leveraging offline communication to bring relief to suffering companies. Spire works with small businesses and employees and over the last few months have seen their customers hurting in unprecedented ways. The firm quickly recognized an opportunity for them to assist COVID-19 relief efforts and built a tool to help suffering businesses apply for CARES act loans. Spire is now conducting outreach to Florida businesses offering their services in hopes of easing some of the hardships employers are facing.

Much of Spire’s outreach is done through direct mail and Spire has partnered with Lob to validate business’ addresses and send direct communications to them via Lob’s API. Spire has access to thousands of business addresses but in order to reach them effectively they verify the data with Lob’s Address Verification API. This enables them to communicate with businesses through offline channels and effectively reach and service more businesses in need.

When we read the CARES Act we saw a lot of room for confusion and a lot of terms of art that were confusing. We figured we were uniquely qualified to make a web app to make understanding the loan easier.
- Kyle Harris, CEO, Spire Tech Services

As businesses shift into new markets and offerings they often require additions or updates to their technology stack. Water2Table has done an amazing job connecting with customers, however, understandably, their expertise is not in online ordering so customers are required to send their orders by email and pay via invoice, just as a restaurant would. A workable solution, but for long term operations, an online ordering and payment solution would be worth exploring. Postmates delivery drivers no longer have a face-to-face confirmation that the order reached the customer, instead they snap a photo of where they left the delivery so the customer can easily locate it. In Spire’s case this shift in focus meant integrating with Lob to reach new customers using direct mail. Businesses everywhere are adapting to these challenging times and thinking outside their traditional vendors and communication channels.  

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