The past two years have been hell for small businesses. Lockdowns, retail and office closures, and lost revenue were devastating. Fortunately, Congress delivered billions of dollars of aid to help small businesses, and millions embraced remote work, e-commerce, and home delivery.
But as we begin 2022 and COVID challenges continue, Congress is considering sweeping antitrust legislation that attacks large digital platforms and, in doing so, reverses the digital progress that is instrumental to small business survival and long-term success.
Surviving the pandemic required both PPP loans and digital technology for many small businesses. Research documents that digital small business services like social media and digital advertising to promote the business, and e-commerce and delivery services to reach customers remotely, created a digital safety net that was critically important when our economy nearly shut down.
Google, Facebook, and Amazon — and Salesforce, GrubHub, Zoom, and Shopify — helped power these COVID lifelines. In addition, small businesses that invested in digital tools before COVID-19 earned 50% more revenue and hired twice as many workers during the shutdowns compared to less digitally savvy businesses. Incredibly, digital tools were instrumental in helping 11 million small businesses keep their doors open.
More importantly, these aren’t just statistics; they are real people. For three years, I’ve worked with digitally-empowered small businesses nationwide. I spend hours listening to small business owners share digital success stories with members of Congress every week.
It’s obvious why they aren’t asking Congress to regulate digital platforms — because digital platforms and tools are helping their restaurants, garden centers, lighting companies, luggage stores, and countless other businesses succeed. Throughout COVID, digital tools have provided hope.
Contrary to some commentators’ views, the small business risks of these antitrust bills are not just theoretical; they are real, and they will hurt. If Amazon cannot self-preference its warehouses, logistics, and shipping operations, then Amazon Prime doesn’t work, and small business sellers cannot guarantee 2-day or same-day delivery. Consumers expect Prime delivery when shopping on Amazon, and countless small businesses have benefitted from providing it.
Additionally, if Google cannot self-preference Google Business Profile pages that businesses can create and populate with critical information such as location, hours and health and safety information for free, then your search for a small business may take you to a third-party site that does not have the most up-to-date information.
It’s easy to bash big and successful businesses, but Congress should not cry “monopoly” when the facts prove otherwise. They should also appreciate when the large and successful companies help power small businesses in every state and district.
All too frequently, we hear that Amazon is a monopoly and small businesses won’t survive if they are not selling on Amazon, but eBay, Etsy, and Walmart host millions of small sellers on their marketplaces, and millions of small businesses offer their own online sales powered by WooCommerce and Shopify.
As the calendar turns to 2022 and COVID still remains a threat, Congress should absolutely double-down to help restaurants, child care centers, and America’s small businesses power through. But it is disingenuous to give aid with one hand while simultaneously undermining powerful small business platforms with the other, and that is precisely the result if Congress restricts how large tech platforms operate and help small businesses.
If 2022 is the Year of Small Business and the Year of Bashing Big Tech, Congress will win headlines, but small businesses will be the collateral damage.
Rob Retzlaff is the executive director of the Connected Commerce Council, a non-profit organization representing 15,000 digitally-empowered small business members nationwide.