Where to next? Small business predictions in the next 20 years


The small business landscape is constantly shifting thanks to the introduction of game-changing technology, evolving consumer behaviour and the rise of the ‘cashless’ society.

So what will it look like in 20 years?

The future is bright, if not uncertain in many ways. Smartphones, co-working spaces, technology that enables people to work from anywhere and greater marketing automation than ever before are shaping the business mindsets of tomorrow.

Add to that fast payments, which are revolutionising the way consumers pay and can also have great potential to improve cash flow for small businesses.

While there are real pain points for small business, including digital marketing, forecasting and logistics, small businesses that are willing to be agile and innovative will leapfrog ahead of their competitors.

Here, retail trend forecaster and bestselling author of How to Prepare Now for What’s Next, Michael McQueen, and CEO and founder of website optimisation firm New Republique, Nima Yassini, offer their perspectives on what small business owners can expect in the year 2038 – and how to thrive.

Find out how NAB’s faster, simpler and smarter payments* can make your customers’ and suppliers’ lives easier 

Cashless society is on the horizon

According to The Future of Cash report by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), cash payments dropped from 69 per cent of overall payments in 2007 to 37 per cent in 2017. Several restaurants including Melbourne’s Colours by Atlas and Brisbane’s Corbett & Claude are now card-only. For B2B suppliers, cash is almost unheard of.

McQueen says this has, in part, been a generational shift as Millennials were the first group to expect and even demand cashless transactions as the norm.

He says increasing numbers of small businesses will adopt faster payment methods in order to keep up with customers. He says this will naturally disrupt the way they have always done business – but they must rethink more than simply the technology to stay ahead of the game.

“Overlaying new technology on outdated or outmoded business systems can be dangerous as it gives the illusion of innovation while not addressing the true purpose of business transformation,” he says.

Improving cash flow through fast payments

Financial innovations that enable faster, simpler and smarter payments are revolutionising small business now, and will continue to do so into the future.

Consumers and suppliers alike can now pay for goods and services quickly to satisfy their need for convenience and immediacy and this will only increase.

Innovations such as fast payments and PayID can help to improve cash flow. Businesses can create a PayID – a unique identifier for receiving fast payments. It can be your business mobile number, email address or ABN so there’s no need to remember BSB and account numbers. Anyone who knows your PayID can use it to pay your business almost instantly, if they’re with a participating bank.

Being able to receive payments faster could mean quicker access to funds to invest back into the business, the ability to take advantage of growth opportunities or on-the-spot deals for your own suppliers.

McQueen says businesses of the future will eat up opportunities to streamline operations.

“If the transaction is seamless, easy and fast, this frees up businesses to focus on engaging, serving and delighting their customers rather than simply transacting with them,” he says.

The business of online conversions

 Today we see small business embracing the digital age by updating their websites to be quick-loading and mobile-friendly and integrating low-cost sales platforms in a bid to attract customers and convert them.

Nima Yassini sees this as a constant trend heading into the future.

“Automation is making it a level playing field,” he says. “Small businesses are getting tech capabilities that used to be available only to big brands.”

Many small businesses are realising the cost of acquisition is too high for them to compete so they are starting to focus more on brand and creating experiences that can be delivered online as a means to engaging and retaining customers.

New Republique is a website-led optimisation agency that assists businesses to boost sales on their websites through what’s known as conversion rate optimisation. Yassini and his team provide insights into target customers to improve their experience on websites, app or mobile site and not only convert them but keep them coming back, and he has some sage advice for small business owners to become businesses of the future.

“Focusing on mobile as a store and transactional platform is key,” he advises. “Also, adopt smart tech that will help you convert customers and build relationships.”

A brave new world

 Yassini says there will be huge technological changes in the next 20 years which will shape the way small business operates.

“The biggest impacts on retail in the next 20 years will be Voice and AI,” he says. “Voice will become an important part of the purchase process and AI will help brand better deliver experiences to customers based on who they are and their intent.”

He says by 2038 stores will become purely brand experiences and online will become the central and automated transactional platform.

“The concept of ‘always-on shopping’ will have a new meaning as retailers introduce machines to help facilitate all day delivery and service options,” he says.

*Fast payments and PayID are available within a class of products issued by National Australia Bank Ltd ABN 12 004 044 937 AFSL 230686 (NAB). Any advice contained in this article has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on any advice in this article, NAB recommends that you consider whether it is appropriate for your circumstances and that you review the relevant Product Disclosure Statement or Terms and Conditions.


nab bank

For 160 years, NAB has been helping our customers with their money. Today, we have more than 30,000 people serving nine million customers at more than 900 locations in Australia, New Zealand and around the world. As Australia’s biggest business lender*, we work with small, medium and large businesses to help them start, run and grow. We fund some of the most important infrastructure in our communities – including schools, hospitals and roads. And we do it in a way that’s responsible, inclusive and innovative. We’re more than bankers; we’re backers. We back people, businesses, and communities to grow, to change, and to move Australia forward. *NAB is Australia’s Biggest Business Bank according to Monthly Banking Statistics lending data (non-financial corporations) published by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority as at January 2020.

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