Online Platforms Provide Small Business Resources During COVID-19
From supportive announcements to more in-depth programs and enhancements, various online platforms are responding in a wide variety of ways to help small businesses navigate the choppy waters surrounding COVID-19. In some cases, these initiatives may apply to your already-established businesses, while other online platforms are pitching in to help others get started, or to add an e-commerce store to their brick and mortar presence. Here are a few current offers available.
Google Ads: Local Curbside Pickup Badges
This beta feature is for merchants who have live local inventory ads and who offer same-day or next-day pick-up services. The clock starts ticking right away, so this means that delivery must be made on the same day an order is placed, or the next. If you’re interested, you’ll need to enable the store pickup option and Google asks that you contact your representative to discuss details.
To qualify, you’ll need to provide a curbside or otherwise contactless pickup option after someone orders products on your site—and this pickup cannot require the shopper to use an app.
This could be a game-changing feature for your business because:
- Many brick and mortar stores are closed and people are looking for available merchants
- Many people remain reluctant to shop in crowds or wait in lines
- People appreciate fast, safe delivery options
- This gives shoppers a way to support their local merchants
This feature is available for merchants who run:
- Google Hosted Local Storefront (GHLSF) ads
- Merchant Hosted Local Storefront (MHLSF) ads, full or basic
If you participate in this program, the local inventory ads will have a curbside pickup badge placed on top.
On your GHLSF local inventory ad, consumers will be able to see how far they are from the pickup location, in miles, along with pickup availability. Once someone clicks on that ad, he or she would be directed to a local storefront hosted by Google. After the customer chooses the “Click & Collect” option, all would be redirected to your website to complete the order and checkout.
The same mileage and pickup availability text would appear on a full MHLSF ad. When someone clicks on that ad, he or she would be redirected to the product page. Availability would be listed, and the consumer can select to buy it online and pick it up, curbside.
With a basic MHLSF ad, consumers will see that a pickup option is available at a nearby store. After clicking on the ad, the shopper would be directed to a relevant product page. The shopper can then review price and availability, complete the purchase online, and then pick it up at a nearby store.
eBay: Up & Running
eBay, meanwhile, recognizes how many small businesses are scrambling to stay up and running when their storefronts are either closed or experiencing a dearth of shoppers. In response, on April 2, 2020, they launched an accelerator program to help retailers across North America who currently don’t have an e-commerce presence.
The program is appropriately named Up & Running, and eBay has pledged up to $100 million for the initiative. If you don’t already have an online presence for your store, it may make sense to explore this offering.
Up & Running participants benefit from:
- A free basic eBay store for three months
- Waived selling fees through June 30, 2020—on up to 500 items
- Free access to marketing and merchandising tools, along with tools that allow them to build a customized, branded presence
More than 180 million people shop on eBay, and the company plans to also provide educational webinars and one-on-one support for these retailers. They also plan to connect merchants who are new to their online platform with experienced eBay sellers.
Current eBay sellers can benefit in these ways:
- Deferred fee payments
- Seller protections, if you need to unexpectedly cancel an order or if shipping is delayed
- 100,000 incremental free listings
In response to COVID-19 challenges experienced by retailers, Shopify has reimagined its point of sale (POS) system and is making it free through October 31, 2020. There are numerous new features in this system. For example, you can include a curbside pickup option, which is obviously appealing to many shoppers at this time. In fact, Shopify notes that, during a two-week period in March, Shopify merchants who took advantage of local delivery or the buy online-store pickup systems saw sales increase ten times! Your ability to personalize shopping experiences can also be optimized with this Shopify POS system, which can allow you to target marketing campaigns more effectively.
Wix: COVID-19 Call System
Wix took a unique approach to its COVID-19 response. The company has created a volunteer call system that pairs volunteers up with people who are “in critical need of assistance.” This can mean, the press release shares, helping someone who is vulnerable to get groceries and medical supplies or performing a task around that person’s home. This initiative was created in response to a request from the Israeli Ministry of Finance & Welfare and was initially made available to people in Israel. During the first three days of its availability, more than 11,000 at-risk people received help.
Since then, Wix has offered to provide this technology, called Corvid, to governments, both local and national, globally—for free. They will also translate the system into other languages, as needed, and assist with implementation, which can be achieved in a matter of days.
In this program, volunteers register and can be validated through government database information. A call center dashboard lists who needs what kind of help, with communications provided through secure, cloud-based Twilio technology. Governments can use a variety of communication technologies through Twilio, including voice calls, SMS, and WhatsApp to connect volunteers with people in need. There is also a reporting dashboard available to government officials to track progress.
BigCommerce: Free Services
BigCommerce is offering three months of free services on all plans for new merchants, with their goal being to provide small business assistance during these unusual times. They’ve also provided a great resource page that shares what their business partners and others are doing to help. In addition, they share tips on responsible marketing during COVID-19, helping you to navigate messaging, tone, voice, and much more.
GoDaddy is offering small business resources that will start out as free or at a low cost through their Open We Stand program. This program includes:
- A “free website for “as long as you need it”
- Three months’ worth of an email marketing tool for free that also allows you to provide Facebook and Google My Business updates
- Three free months’ worth of a premium subscription, which gives you access to their “entire design content library” to create social media content
- A professional email address for $1.99 per month per user
WooCommerce: Web Resources
WooCommerce is offering resources, tips, and a special offer that includes three months of GoDaddy e-commerce hosting for one dollar, when you launch your site on the WooCommerce platform.
MailChimp is providing marketing resources, tutorials, and more:
- Offering $10 million in price relief to current customers who need financial assistance
- Providing free standard plans for public service groups
- Offering free .coms and websites to help businesses get online
- Donating $500,000 to COVID-19 recovery efforts; they’ve chosen the following five organizations to each receive $100,000: the Brooklyn Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, the Center for Civic Innovation, Goodr, Keep Oakland Housed, and New Story Charity
This is more of a shoutout, since this small business assistance program ran in April. Etsy set aside $5 million to help their sellers run ads on Google, Bing, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Sellers would only be charged an advertising fee if someone clicked on an ad and ordered products on or after May 1. Plus, for sellers who needed it, April served as a grace period for fees.
Social Media Initiatives
Now that many people are either sheltering in place or at least spending more time than usual at home, your social media efforts can gain more attention and traction. To help, YouTube is providing a free beta tool that allows you to animate images, text, and logos, along with music from their library, to create catchy, customized short videos.
Note: these videos are super short—either 6 or 15 seconds—but, because the videos are integrated with Google Ads, they will be shown to relevant YouTube viewers, which can increase your company’s visibility.
If you sell in the Pinterest shop, they’ve added a free Verified Merchant Program to benefit responsible businesses who meet their criteria. Once you do, you’ll have a blue checkmark placed on your business profile, letting customers know you’ve been vetted and verified. These verified merchants will show up more often in related product pages and will have access to helpful business metrics.
Facebook committed to providing $100,000 million to 30,000 small businesses that have been negatively affected by COVID. This money became available in April and, as you might expect, they’ve been flooded with applications. This Facebook resource page, however, says they’ll be offering additional resources “soon.” So, stay tuned.
They’re also offering business resources to help guide you through challenges.
Then, there’s Instagram. They’re offering $100 million in grant assistance. Plus, you can now include stickers in your Instagram stories, which allows your business to feature gift cards and online food orders on your profile. Someone viewing your sticker can simply tap on the gift card or food order to buy through your website.
During March 2020, day-over-day usage of Google Meet, the video conference tool, increased by more than 60%, with daily usage 25+ times what it was in January! This wasn’t necessarily unexpected, given that so many more people are working remotely, and, fortunately, Google Meet had the capacity to meet this increased demand.
To help G Suite and G Suite for Education customers, advanced features are now free. This gives people the ability to host larger meetings (up to 250 people per call), to record meetings, save them in Google drive, and live stream them for up to 100,000 viewers in a domain.
Plus, the hardware needed for Google Meet is now available in expanded areas around the globe, including in Hong Kong, Indonesia, South Africa, South Korea, and Taiwan.
Free or Low-Cost Online Learning Platforms
Some people are finding themselves to be super busy during the time of COVID, while others have a bit more flexibility in their schedules. If you’re in the latter group, you might want to take advantage of these free or low cost online learning platforms to make you even more prepared to grow your business:
- U.S. Small Business Administration Learning Center
- Free Courses and Training (30+ options collated by Frugal Entrepreneur)
- Free Online Courses for Small Business Success
- 12 Free Online Business Courses You Can’t Miss
- 15 Best Online Business Courses for Small Business Owners
Free Small Business Resources
Check the links below to learn about further small business resources.
- Channel Advisor
- Webflow (note that local businesses may qualify for a free three-month plan)
- Spree Commerce
If you see a program that may help your small business, we encourage you to investigate it further. As there is such a great demand for small business assistance during COVID-19, some programs may quickly reach their maximum capabilities. And, please note that this is not a comprehensive list; there are other new offers popping up frequently.