Dec 23, 2020

A possible life raft for small businesses selling online

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Intuit has a new tool that centralizes a store's sales in person, on its website and on other platforms, like Amazon.

For many small businesses, the pandemic-driven shift to selling on the internet is a huge change. Plenty of brick-and-mortar store owners were selling in person only, using everything from spreadsheets to paper and pencil to keep track of it all. So companies are increasingly offering new tools to help those brick-and-mortar stores manage their inventory and figure out which online platforms are best for them.

Intuit launched something called QuickBooks Commerce earlier this year to help companies sell everywhere. I spoke with Alex Chriss, the executive vice president of the small business group at Intuit. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.

A headshot of Alex Chriss, the executive vice president of the Small Business Group at Intuit.
Alex Chriss (Photo courtesy of Intuit)

Alex Chriss: So the most basic is in person. You can imagine a retail store or if you’re at a farmers market and you want to be able to just sell with people in front of you. But then there are lots of online channels as well, so you can sell through Amazon, you can have your own website. And then there’s a lot of selling through social media right now. All the stores or sales that are happening through a Facebook or an Instagram, all of those are happening and small businesses want access to customers, wherever their customers are shopping.

Molly Wood: And does this product specifically integrate with those? Like, all of a sudden I have listed my products on Instagram and Shopify and Amazon, and I can see how they’re doing across all those channels?

Chriss: That’s right. That’s the beauty of it. Once you are set up in one channel, we are the source of truth for your orders and your inventory.

Wood: Got it. So, really, what you’re saying is that previously, small businesses were using QuickBooks, doing their thing, maintaining, and didn’t necessarily want to explore all these other options or feel like they had to?

Chriss: I don’t think they had to. I think they were working well, the economy was going well, and now, when all of a sudden the world throws a curveball, they figure out how to pivot and persevere. And what we’re seeing now is a lot of small businesses saying, “OK, I was fine before, but now I can’t have people showing up to my store to buy my goods. So I’m going to figure out how to sell online.” We’re here to help small businesses think through that and allow them to be able to survive.

Wood: What about the data on the back-end? Are you discovering, internally, what channels are the most effective?

Chriss: We have not only the orders that are now coming in, so the revenue that a small business is making, but we have all their expense information as well because that’s what they’ve been using QuickBooks to reconcile. So now they can start to think about, as they’re leveraging different channels and social channels, they can now see the efficacy of that marketing spend. And so for the first time, they can really see [return on investment] on where they want to go leverage. Are they finding such great customer acquisition through Instagram, that that’s where they really want to go double down? They’re just getting those insights, and it’s making them smarter to be able to grow their business.

Wood: We seem to be at this moment where there is actually a burgeoning industry in aggregating small businesses. I wonder if you’re going to find that ecosystems develop? Like Facebook says, “You can’t have access to our tools for selling because we’re building our own competing product right now.”

Chriss: It’s certainly a concern. The concept of a walled garden is great for the platform, but it doesn’t give the small business access to customers. And so we’re that linchpin and the source of truth that can now connect to all the different open ecosystems.

An illustration of a computer screen with QuickBooks Commerce's interface showing, and brand names of Etsy, Woo, eBay, SHopify, Amazon and SquareSpace popping on the sides of the screen.
Intuit launched omnichannel sales platform QuickBooks Commerce, which gives small businesses access to millions of new customers. (Photo courtesy of Intuit)

Related links: More insight from Molly Wood

Yesterday, I talked a bit about how Shopify is winning at e-commerce. With growth comes fraud, and the Financial Times has a piece this week that says as many as 20% of the shops on Shopify could be a risk to consumers in some way. Either they’re cons, or they’re selling counterfeit goods, or they’re sketchy in some other way. That’s according to a service called Fakespot, which authenticates e-commerce outlets. Shopify told the FT that this is an “industry wide problem.”

If internet, then fraud.

Still, consultants said Shopify is suffering from the good work done at eBay and Amazon to try to stamp out counterfeit sellers and fraudulent stores, as in they’re all migrating to Shopify until the platform figures it out.

If internet, then buyer beware.

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The team

Molly Wood Host
Michael Lipkin Senior Producer
Stephanie Hughes Producer
Jesus Alvarado Assistant Producer