The past two years have been excruciating for small businesses in Kentucky and across America. Closures, store and office closures and loss of revenue have been devastating. Thankfully, Congress has provided billions of dollars in aid to help small businesses, and millions have embraced remote working, e-commerce, and home delivery.
But as the challenges of COVID continue, Congress is considering sweeping antitrust legislation that attacks big digital platforms and, in doing so, reverses the digital progress that is essential to the survival and long-term success of small businesses.
Surviving the pandemic has required both PPP loans and digital technology for many small businesses. Research papers indicate that digital services for small businesses, such as social media and digital advertising to promote the business and e-commerce and delivery services to reach customers remotely, have created a digital safety net which was critically important when our economy nearly shut down.
Google, Facebook, and Amazon — and Salesforce, GrubHub, Zoom, and Shopify — have helped fuel those COVID lifelines. Additionally, small businesses that invested in digital tools before COVID-19 earned 50% more revenue and hired twice as many workers during shutdowns compared to less digitally savvy businesses. Incredibly, digital tools have helped 11 million small businesses keep their doors open.
More importantly, these are not just statistics; they are real people. For three years I worked with small digital businesses in Bluegrass State and across the country. I spend hours each week listening to small business owners share digital success stories with members of Congress. Obviously they’re not asking Congress to regulate digital platforms — because digital platforms and tools help their restaurants, garden centers, lighting companies, luggage stores, and countless other businesses succeed. Throughout COVID, digital tools have given hope.
Contrary to the views of some commentators, the risks to small businesses from these antitrust bills are not just theoretical; they are real and they will hurt. If Amazon can’t self-prefer its warehouses, logistics, and shipping operations, then Amazon Prime doesn’t work and small business sellers can’t guarantee 2-day or same-day delivery. Consumers expect Prime delivery when shopping on Amazon, and countless small businesses have benefited. Additionally, if Google cannot self-prefer Google Business Profile pages that businesses can create and populate with critical information such as location, hours, and health and safety information for free, your searching for a small business may lead you to a third-party site. which does not have the most recent information.
It’s easy to denigrate successful big business, but Congress shouldn’t shout “monopoly” when the facts prove otherwise. They should also appreciate that successful big business helps fuel small businesses in every state and district. Too often we hear that Amazon is a monopoly and that small businesses won’t survive if they don’t sell on Amazon, but eBay, Etsy and Walmart host millions of small sellers in their marketplaces, and millions of small businesses offer their own online sales powered by WooCommerce and Shopify.
As we navigate 2022 with COVID still a threat, Congress should absolutely double down on helping American restaurants, daycares, and small businesses get through. But it’s dishonest to help with one hand while simultaneously undermining powerful small business platforms with the other, and that’s precisely the result if Congress restricts the operation of big tech platforms and helps small businesses. If 2022 is the year of small business and the year of big tech bashing, Congress will make the headlines, but small businesses in Kentucky and across America will be the collateral damage.
Rob Retzlaff is the executive director of the Connected Commerce Council, a nonprofit organization representing 15,000 digitally-enabled small business members nationwide.