A new year always arrives with new challenges — and new opportunities. While 2016 will see the continuation of some long-running trends – mobile tech will continue to dominate, Millennials will grow as an essential market, online video will keep rising in importance – a number of issues impacting small business owners are just now beginning to emerge.
Here are five new, big trends that small businesses will face in the coming year and beyond.
EMV Liability and A Shifting Payments Landscape
In late 2015, you might have been asked by a retailer to slide your credit card into a slot instead of swiping it through the reader like you’ve been doing for years. In October 2015, liability for fraudulent purchases formally shifted from credit card issuers to retailers unless they adopted EMV technology, which is embodied by the tiny chip embedded in new credit cards. While controversial, EMV is designed to improve the security of credit cards and make them harder to counterfeit, but if you haven’t upgraded your card readers – or don’t use them properly – you could be on the hook for major losses down the line.
Note that EMV impacts everyone, so even if you’ve been using a mobile card reader like one from Square or GoPayment, you aren’t immune from the new rules. Upgrade mobile readers now (Square’s is here) to stay protected.
Minimum Wage Hikes and Other Labor Laws
More than 20 states have set higher minimum wages for 2016, and some regions have dramatically hiked the amount workers must be paid. Seattle famously pushed its minimum wage from $11 to $15 in 2015, which has left many small businesses – especially restaurants – scrambling financially. Preliminary data has shown Seattle restaurant jobs on the (slight) decline vs. the rest of Washington, leaving some to wonder about the ultimate economic impact the law will have in the years to come.
Minimum wage isn’t the only thing employers will contend with in the HR universe. New rules like California’s Fair Pay Act, the federal mandatory sick leave order, and potential changes in overtime exemption rules all threaten to upend the way employers budget for labor costs. The upshot: Watch for big moves toward automation, kiosk-based customer service, and other human-free systems across all business lines.
Same Day Delivery Entices Customers
In a world where music and movies are available for instantaneous download, consumers are becoming increasingly impatient with lengthy waits for physical products to be delivered, and Amazon’s popular Prime subscription delivery service has made consumers even more fanatical about getting stuff fast. The next step is same-day delivery, which Amazon is also testing, along with a whole cadre of get-it-now instant gratification services.
The upshot of all this is that delivery speed is rapidly becoming an area where businesses can generate a real competitive advantage. Can your business speed up the way it reaches customers in 2016, either directly or through a partnership that’s already built out an infrastructure?
Hackers Love Small Businesses
A sea change is underway in the world of online security: Now more than ever, small businesses are being targeted by hackers and other, surprisingly coordinated, online criminals. It’s easy to see why: While large companies represent potentially massive windfalls to attackers, small businesses have fewer resources to protect themselves and are less likely to even be aware they’re under attack. Last year, Symantec research found that 60 percent of all attacks targeted small and medium sized businesses, and a typical successful attack can cost a business hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.
The smart move for 2016 isn’t necessarily to bone up on constantly-evolving security tactics but rather to outsource security to someone who already does. So-called managed security service providers are on the rise and can offer a level of protection that few small businesses can achieve in-house.
Laser Targeting of Potential Customers
Broad advertising (like TV and radio) isn’t going anywhere, but the days of “spray and pray” ad campaigns are rapidly coming to an end. Facebook already lets you target potential buyers with laser-like accuracy, based both on demographics and their stated interests, and newer technologies are taking this even further. Want to reach all the moms who live in a seven-mile radius from your store? You’ll be able to reach them directly, by name, with a series of cross-device ads – and even send them mobile messages through beacon technology should they wander near your shop.
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About the Author: Christopher Null is an award-winning business and technology journalist. His work frequently appears on Wired, PC World, and TechBeacon. Follow him on Twitter @christophernull.