6 Questions small businesses should ask about technology

1. Your existing technology is outdated.

While we don’t advocate upgrading your hardware every time a shiny new solution debuts, all technology has a shelf life. Often, business technology can be stretched a little longer than consumer goods, but it’s still important to keep a close watch on how your machines and systems are functioning. There will come a point when a piece of software or hardware won’t serve you well any more.

For example, a business laptop is usually on the market for about two-and-a-half to five years, and manufacturers keep necessary parts in stock to provide service beyond that five-year mark. Apple, on the other hand, calls products made more than five years ago “vintage” and won’t service anything once it reaches that point.

Takeaway: If the device in question can no longer be serviced or requires maintenance more than once every six months, it’s probably time to upgrade. Pro tip: Ideally, when upgrading, you should look for a replacement that’s primed to adapt as the landscape expands and evolves.

2. Major companies standardize on it.

The NFC example mentioned above is a perfect case of a technological tipping point. When Apple and Google both decided to standardize mobile payments around NFC, it automatically became the standard.

The business world has quickly gotten in line: Point-of-sale systems and payment terminals accepting Apple Pay

Takeaway: If a technology is adopted by the major players in a given arena, it’s a pretty sure bet that it won’t fade away anytime soon. In cases where that technology can help you deliver a better experience to your customers, you can go ahead and upgrade without worrying about a replacement coming tomorrow.

3. It’s huge among your competitors.

Sometimes, a few stores adopt the latest technology to pull ahead of the curve. But that’s not reason enough for you to hop on board, especially as a small business, so it’s important to keep an eye out for technologies with lasting power.

If a particular technology is being adopted widely by your competitors (large or small) and they’re clearly seeing success from it, you should at least consider getting on the bandwagon.

Data-backed loyalty programs are a good example of a technology that’s being adopted widely at businesses large and small. These days, loyalty programs are reasonably priced and easy to implement, plus their impact can be significant when executed well. As a bonus, they provide valuable customer information that will help your marketing strategy down the road.

Takeaway: Of course, there’s no hard-and-fast rule, but if at least half your competitors have invested in a particular technology, you can probably assume that it has transitioned from trend to table stakes. It’s up to you how early or late you want to be to any party, but the longer you wait, the more you’ll just be catching up to everyone else.

4. Large businesses have thrown their support behind the technology.

Although it may seem like big-name companies are ahead of the game when it comes to technology, as a small business, you can use their experience to your advantage when considering a tech upgrade. Because of your size, you’re nimbler by nature, making the adoption of new technology a much faster process.

Take the rising popularity of beacons, for example. These in-store, location-based transmitters communicate with consumers’ phones to push out sale notifications and other relevant, real-time information. Stores from Macy’s to Lord & Taylor to Walmart to Apple have all embraced this tool to better engage customers.

Even better, they really do work. A study released last year by inMarket revealed that location-specific notifications magnified the likelihood of a consumer having an interaction with that product by 19 times.

Takeaway: If many of the large businesses in your category are implementing a particular technology, it’s time to start taking it seriously and figuring out how it fits into your own business strategy. While you might not be able to afford everything huge companies use, you’d be amazed at how many affordable solutions are being created every day for small businesses. Do your homework and carefully weigh the pros and cons before you skipping a technology that’s driving success for other businesses in your industry.

5. It’ll boost your bottom line.

It’s easy to focus on the cost of new technology, but don’t forget about the potentially significant return on that investment.

For example, Deloitte expects the usage of mobile payments to grow exponentially, from 0.5 percent of mobile phones used for in-store payments once a month or more in mid-2014 to 5 percent by the end of 2015—a whopping 100x increase.

What if you don’t accept mobile payments? Giving consumers a reason to shop elsewhere is probably not a good idea, especially when a recent survey found that the odds of shoppers using Apple Pay to make bigger purchases ($250 or more) is triple that of other payment services.

Takeaway: If a technology is widely adopted by consumers and stands to draw in more revenue, it shouldn’t be overlooked. In these cases, odds are your customers will grow to expect compatible technology—and spend more where it exists. You can get a head start now and show your customers you’re ready for the future, boosting your bottom line in the process.

6. It will make your business more secure.

Upgrading may feel like a hassle, but it’s important to carefully weigh the risks and rewards. One of the most important qualities you want associated with your business is trust. While mobile payments might seem nice to have from a business perspective, they can actually make a huge positive difference in the level of security you’re able to offer your customers.

With NFC technology, after tapping their phones to pay, customers are prompted for a fingerprint scan or password entry before any funds are transferred. From there, the purchase is securely authorized via another, highly-secure chip that communicates with the NFC device to finalize the purchase. Customer information is also replaced by a unique code, so credit card numbers aren’t a factor.

Takeaway: With security breaches on the rise, shoppers are understandably wary of threats to their personal information. POS systems designed to process more secure transactions, whether via mobile payments or chip-and-pin cards, communicate to your customers that keeping their information safe is a top priority.

In the world of business technology, there’ll always be fleeting trends and tools with justified staying power. If you’re faced with the question of skipping or adopting and you can say “yes” to two or more of the above scenarios, it may be time to make that technology upgrade. After all, while these changes may feel like a hassle now, the ones that are truly worth it will have a positive impact on your business for years to come.

Did you recently undergo a retail technology upgrade? Sending us a tweet @Cayan and let us know how your company benefited from the change.