Visa deployed local teams to help small shops in early COVID-19 days

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As the coronavirus pandemic unfolded in early 2020, Visa deployed street-level teams in 66 cities across the U.S. to meet with small-business owners to help them transition to a digital-first world.

After the national emergency declaration in mid-March, Visa executives realized that small-business owners would be fighting not just for survival, but for a solid footing in the post-pandemic economy. Visa began literally knocking on the doors of small businesses to help owners address the market’s changing demands.

“We saw a couple of major things hit small businesses early on,” said Kevin Phalen, head of Visa Business Solutions. “Consumers immediately wanted to change how they shopped at small businesses to include curbside pickup, e-commerce and contactless in-store. Then we realized how owners were paying their suppliers was also going to have to change, from checks to digital payments, to keep up with the new supply chain demands."

According to a U.S. Census Small Business Pulse Survey conducted in weekly waves during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost three-quarters (74%) of small businesses nationwide registered declines in weekly revenues during the April 26-May 2 survey wave. In this same wave, just over one third (38.1%) of small businesses reported that they were receiving governmental assistance from the Paycheck Program Program fund.

Fast forwarding to the end of June’s pulse survey (June 21-June 27), the census found that the number of businesses registering weekly declines in revenue had fallen to 42.6% and the number of owners who were accessing PPP funds had risen to almost three quarters (72.4%).

“Small businesses have had to drive digital adoption at both ends of their business, from buying from suppliers to selling to consumers,” Phalen said. “The speed with which they have changed is a testament to their flexibility. Take for example the typical farmer's market. A year ago few vendors accepted payment cards, maybe 10%. Today, most sellers offer contactless payments acceptance.”

The transition from cash to cards has been reflected in Visa’s payments volume, grew by 26% in July and 24% in August from a year earlier, despite the enhanced unemployment benefit running out and the economy mired in a recession.

Entering the winter holiday season, consumers are expected to shop online at greater levels than ever seen before, and Phalen says small-business owners are ready to meet the growing online demand.

“Small businesses are optimistic about the holiday season, but still have a long way to recover … our [global] goal is to bring another 50 million global small businesses onto our network in the next three years," he said.

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Coronavirus Small business Visa Digital payments