The arbitrary definition of “essential services” can make or break struggling businesses, so digital platforms and creative workarounds are needed.

With the restrictions that come with lockdowns and quarantines, small businesses worldwide have suffered great financial losses. Some enterprises, however, have refused to go under, and continue to provide services using social media and other digital tools.

In the United States, non-essential businesses in many states had been ordered to close. If your business is not a supermarket or a pharmacy, then your enterprise is considered non-essential. In cities states where there is no such order or mandate, takeout or delivery services remain available from restaurants (similar to other countries like the Philippines).

In Asheville, North Carolina, a website called Asheville Strong helped local businesses to bring in some revenues by offering a directory where customers can contact the stores and purchase gift crds—to be used after the lockdown is lifted and the stores have re-opened. Let us not forget that physical stores or brick-and-mortar businesses have high overhead costs comprising taxes, service contracts, insurance, rent, fixtures, utilities, payroll…the list goes on. Any substantial revenue coming in entails another day of not being included among the 15 million small US businesses that might be gone in June 2020, as per numbers provided by the Small Business Administration.

Relying on established clientele

In the Philippines, the housing sector stimulates other businesses, providing jobs and supporting industries. For that reason, the Organization of Socialized and Economic Housing Developers of the Philippines, Inc. (OSHDP) has requested the country’s Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to permit real estate buying-and-selling even under the current Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).

The OSHDP stated that real estate transactions can be done through electronic means: there is social media which provides video conferencing and FB messenger, then there are digital platforms like Lamudi, SWOOP, and Dot Property.

Also in the Philippines, businesses, large and small, rely on an established clientele to stay afloat and even thrive. For the branch of a fast food chain, sales from takeout and delivery services under the ECQ could not be more brisk—the only difference being that the store is not permitted to be open for 24 hours.

In contrast, a Gift Café nearby makes use of GRABFood deliveries to reach its clients. No fewer than five motorcycles can be seen in front of the cafe’s entrance on any given hour.

It is worth noting that before the pandemic, very few customers would be seen entering the cafe. It would seem the COVID-19 virus made the café proprietor more aware of the marketing possibilities in his grasp: If the clients cannot or will not go to you, go to the clients. Just download the Grab App and see the difference.

Still another small business—a co-tenant of the cafe in the same building—is a pet veterinarian store. Despite the statement of the World Health Organization (WHO) that there is no evidence that cats and dogs have infected humans with COVID-19, the Pet Vet shop has its front door closed. Passers-by in their cars would think that it is not operational. That appearance of closure probably keeps the store owner from being censured for violating social distancing measures: sending pets for a check-up would entail close contact among vet and pet-owner.

Is a pet vet shop a non-essential business? Many dog-owners seem to disagree because through FB or text messages exchanged with the veterinarian, they still bring their pets via the back door. The pet vet also maintains an FB page that features pets available for adoption, plus customers do not have to pay cash upfront for services but can make use of non-cash modes of payment like credit cards, GCash, and others.

Thus, even as people wait for the pandemic to reach its peak or for lockdown measures to be relaxed, some businesses still bring their goods and services to their clientele either via digital means and/or through back door.