5 things small businesses learned in 2021

Editorial Team

5 min read
Colleagues discussing ideas

As small business owners entered the second year of the global pandemic, it took a mix of savvy, resilience, and technology to overcome the numerous challenges that arose within the US economy. Retail outlook slowly returned to steadier ground.


Either through necessity or inspiration, the pandemic pushed many people into becoming small business owners or entrepreneurs, with more than 4 million new business applications being filed during the first eight months of 2021. These new small business owners are stepping into unprecedented territory, where supply chain issues, staffing, and contactless payment have become the new norm.

But for small businesses who can respond nimbly to obstacles in the marketplace, there is a reward–nearly 70 percent of customers say they are committed to supporting small business more than they did before the pandemic.

Here’s a recap of some of the most significant challenges merchants faced in 2021 and what we’ve learned from them.

1. It’s takeout time

For many restaurants, takeout orders were simply a lifeline during rough patches. Now, takeout is a critical revenue stream for many business owners, who’ve pivoted to business models that accommodate a continued desire by customers to order takeout. Nearly 80 percent of people say they will continue to order takeout at the same level even post-pandemic.

Many small business owners who turned focus to new tools, systems, and procedures were able to capitalize on to-go and delivery business as an integral revenue stream. Clover Online Ordering (COLO) allows businesses to receive and process orders from wherever guests discover their restaurant: via searches, apps, or the menu web page.

“When we were using our website for online ordering, customers used to only order certain things,” says Dae-Kun Kim of Fray’s Donut House in St. Petersburg, Florida. “With Clover online ordering, people can see all the items and click what they want.” 

2. Safety first

With continuing concerns about COVID-19 and its variants, small businesses have had to adapt quickly to address those concerns by offering mobile ordering and contactless payment processes that are simple and safe. 

And as more restaurants shifted to outdoor dining to accommodate social distancing requirements, being able to process orders and payments quickly has made for a more enjoyable dining experience for customers. Clover Flex’s small size and powerful WiFi/LTE connection means customers can pay at their tables or at curbside pickup.

“We bring the payment system right to guests, they don’t even have to get up,” says Jeremy Poon of Sushi Lab in New York City. “They can cash out right at their table, which minimizes foot traffic when we are trying to keep people socially distant.”

3. Supply and demand

Supply chain woes have hit businesses hard, especially those who rely on a steady stream of fresh products or restaurant supplies. More than 40% of small business owners say they are dealing with domestic supplier delays, ranging from something as small as a lack of cups and forks to major impediments like ingredients for products.

Menu flexibility has also been critical for restaurant owners. COLO’s new menu images feature offers restaurateurs the ability to document all the delicious meals they have to offer and respond quickly as supply chain issues arise, pulling or adding items based on availability.

“Clover has really allowed us the flexibility, tools, and technology to be able to keep up with what is going on,” says Gladys Harrison of Big Mama’s Kitchen and Catering in Omaha, Nebraska.

4. Now hiring

One of the major challenges many businesses have faced this year has been an extremely tight labor market, with estimates of 10+ million jobs available across the US. This is an even bigger challenge for smaller businesses, who may not be able to offer the competitive wages that some larger employers can.

But that doesn’t mean small businesses aren’t landing quality employees; instead, owners are becoming more inventive with their hiring, using out-of-the-box approaches to attract talent. Owners who can showcase their passion, connect their business to their community, and make prospective employees feel needed can stand out in a crowded job market

And, offering prospective employees the opportunity to learn something new or use new technologies daily can attract top talent looking for ways to build their knowledge and career now and in the future.

5. Pay their way

Research shows that in a typical week at least one-third of adults under 50 make no purchases with cash. As paying with cash becomes one of the least palatable options for customers in their quest to reduce germs and contact, businesses that want to attract more customers must be willing to accept a wide range of payment types.

Recent studies show that no-touch payments have increased by 69% for retailers. What’s more, customers have shown a willingness to adopt new technologies to reduce unnecessary contact. Mobile payment options can also make online orders a breeze. With the rise of QR codes, products like Scan to Pay have become a great option for dine-in customers who want to pay their bill at the table fast. 

Mobile payments have also boomed over the past year. But for customers who aren’t ready to tap to pay for purchases, business owners should make sure they can quickly and efficiently process credit cards, debit cards, checks, and more. Clover offers POS systems that give business owners the ability to process payments in store, online and on-the-go.

To learn how Clover’s solutions can help your business in 2022 and beyond, connect with a Clover Business Consultant today.