More than 90 percent of Californians visit small or midsized businesses at least once a week, according to a consumer survey conducted by Cox Business, a provider of voice, data and video services for more than 300,000 small and regional businesses nationwide.
Those results may be a mild surprise in an era of free shipping and big-box retailers, but small businesses provide something special: personal service, convenience and a sense of community.
The survey, conducted in spring 2017, was released by Cox Communications during National Small Business Week, which celebrates the connections these businesses are making in their communities.
"The annual survey reveals valuable information on the priorities of small businesses and entrepreneurs," says Jodi Duva, vice president of Cox Business, Orange County. "With this insight, we are able to anticipate their needs and offer products and services that are customized to help them today and tomorrow."
Here are some of the survey's key takeaways.
Supporting the community, and more
In citing the top three reasons for shopping at a small or local business, survey respondents cited supporting their community (67 percent), convenience (63 percent) and better customer service (26 percent).
The factors leading to that support include familiarity (40 percent), loyalty (36 percent), greater level of trust compared to large businesses (24 percent) and more competitive pricing (14 percent).
Consumers want Wi-Fi
In what might be called the Silicon Valley effect, Californians who responded to the survey said technology plays a part in enhancing the customer experience at small businesses. Almost half, 44 percent, said free and reliable Wi-Fi topped the preferred technology list when answering this question: What type of technology would enhance the customer experience at your favorite small business?
Duva suggests small businesses prioritize Wi-Fi when considering what investments to make in their business. "For many consumers, staying connected is the new norm," she says. As more businesses offer Wi-Fi, expectations for this technology also grows, she adds.
Make it personal
Small businesses offer a personal touch that can prove challenging for large chains. Respondents said their preferred method of communicating with a business was by email (53 percent), but local in-person events ranked a close second (45 percent). Reflecting the changing times, direct mail (21 percent) and phone communication (11 percent) were among the lowest-rated communication methods.
Made in America
Many respondents (81 percent) said they felt good about supporting American businesses, though most small business shoppers said they don't often check where something was manufactured. However, 71 percent said they would spend more money at small businesses that only offered U.S.-produced items.
While California was "with her" during the 2016 presidential election, red or blue didn't seem to matter to consumers when it came to small business shopping. Only 18 percent of survey participants would stop supporting a business if they knew the owner voted differently than they did, with 82 percent stating that wouldn't affect their small business shopping choices.
Saving the customer money
Small businesses help manage costs to the consumer as well. Mary Morris is vice president of client services at Specialized Marketing Services Inc., in Santa Ana, California, which concentrates on customer acquisition and direct response. She says that keeping the business small — at about 40 employees — has proved advantageous.
"I think from a consumer or brand perspective, because we are a small B2B business, we can do things more nimbly," Morris says. "We have a lot more elasticity, so aren't paying for overhead and staff not being used, which some of the other big box agencies have to factor into their proposals."
About the 2017 Cox Business Consumer Sentiment Survey on Small Business
Cox Business commissioned a blind survey of American consumers in March of 2017. Respondents to the online survey included a total of 1,848 consumers – 308 of whom live in California. These results are specific to California residents.