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The spirit of American small businesses

This report tells the story of how a ‘Digital Safety Net’ has helped and is helping American small businesses during COVID-19. The research describes how and to what extent affordable and accessible digital tools have enabled many small businesses to survive and recover from the economic impact of COVID-19 – in some cases, becoming stronger and more agile in the process. We also found that more digitally-driven businesses saw much better financial and operational outcomes for 2020 than less-digital peers.

This research sought to understand shifts in perception and use of digital tools among American small and medium-sized businesses, or SMBs, as a result of COVID-19. The research objectives included:

  • Gauging the impact of COVID-19 on small businesses across industries, geographies, and vulnerable communities.
  • Understanding the role of digital tools in helping small businesses run and grow their businesses.
  • Uncovering shifts in the role of digital tools as a result of COVID-19.
  • Identifying current and anticipated pain points and unmet needs around digital tools.
  • Exploring attitudes and perceptions about the future and the role digital tools might play in a new normal after COVID-19.

The results presented here are based on a quantitative research survey of 2,037 SMB leaders in the United States across a variety of business sizes and industries conducted from Feb 17–Mar 11, 2021. It is important to note that in order to be included in the study, SMBs had to be in business at the time of the research (i.e., operational); thus, businesses that closed during the pandemic were not included in our work. 

SMBs are defined as businesses of 0–499 employees. Of the 2,037 SMBs surveyed, 377 (19%) were Solo SMBs with 0 employees (i.e., sole owner/operator), 658 (32%) were Micro SMBs with 1-19 employees, 688 (34%) were Small SMBs with 20-249 employees, and 314 (15%) were Medium SMBs with 250-499 employees. 

The survey was conducted by LRWGreenberg, a Material+ Company. Data were weighted by vertical, market, and business size for an accurate representation of SMBs as distributed by the number of people they employ. 

The work presented in this report is a continuation of a large-scale global study of SMBs and their use of digital tools during the COVID-19 pandemic sponsored by the Connected Commerce Council (3C) and Google. In 2020, they published the Digitally Empowered and Digitally Driven reports with initial results from the United States, and in 2021 they published Digitally Driven: Europe, a survey of small businesses in 28 countries.  

Who was Involved

The Connected Commerce Council (3C) is a non-profit membership organization with a single goal: to promote small businesses’ access to essential digital technologies and tools. 3C provides small businesses with access to the market’s most effective digital tools available, provides coaching to optimize growth and efficiency, and works to cultivate a policy environment that considers and respects the interests of today’s small businesses.
Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Through products and platforms like Search, Maps, Gmail, Android, Google Play, Chrome, and YouTube, Google plays a meaningful role in the daily lives of billions of people and has become one of the most widely-known companies in the world. Google is a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc.
Greenberg (formerly Greenberg Strategy) is a research and strategy consultancy focused on helping businesses understand the WholeHuman® Experience inside and outside the organization. Our approach integrates patterns thinking, insight and design in order to maximize companies’ value. We specialize in both qualitative and quantitative research around customers, brands, communications, products and organizations. Headquartered in Emeryville, CA, Greenberg was awarded Quirk’s Market Research Supplier of the Year in 2019.

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