Across the US, ag retailers are reporting negative impacts to their profit margins due to increased competition from online ag retail startups. While e-commerce continues to be a relatively small sector within ag retail, the growth of online startups shows no sign of slowing down. E-commerce sites now provide farmers and ag retail customers with multiple sources of produce price information, allowing them to leverage that information in negotiations with more traditional retailers. Ag retailers who continue to bundle products and services under the produce price report steadily losing customers to e-commerce sites that cater to the more cost-sensitive farmers.
Thought leaders within ag retail are working to stay ahead of industry shifts as manufacturers merge, farmers consolidate and technology advances at a rapid pace throughout the agribusiness supply chain. The new threat to their profits presented by online startups is a driving a steady transition away from traditional practices and strategies in ag retail in order; their goal is to meet the needs of farmers and customers, while remaining true to the principles of the industry, which is based on distribution and service. Now, a need for e-commerce alternatives is pushing ag retailers to add online options in order to keep up with the shifts in the industry and better serve their customers.
Understanding the Omni-Channel Option
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that the total number of farmers purchasing inputs online has increased by 40-percent over the last four years. And, while most farmers do utilize some form of a combination of physical channels and digital options for their purchasing, the inability to access the needed agronomic expertise and business insights have many farmers wondering what the right choice is for their online business. As this online buying trend is likely to continue, it is critical for ag retailers and other agribusiness leaders to understand the best options for an e-commerce strategy.
It is clear that omnichannel e-commerce strategies stand alone as the preferred method for optimizing the online business opportunities for ag retailers. Omnichannel is a term commonly used across industries to describe a multichannel approach when seeking to provide customers with a seamless shopping experience. This service allows customers to have options for shopping in a variety of formats, including on a desktop, from a mobile device, in a brick-and-mortar store or by telephone.
Data is now a fundamental tool moving agribusinesses forward and allowing businesses to bring information from their online customers and their in-person customers together. Utilizing an omnichannel business model creates an opportunity for precision data to be available, generating important business insights that can reduce waste and streamline the customer experience.
Implementing a Successful Omni-Channel Strategy
With more than 80-percent of customers comparing prices online prior to making large purchases, marketers across industries agree that leveraging omnichannel strategies to protect their market share is crucial to business success. And while many agribusinesses are onboard with utilizing an omnichannel strategy for e-commerce, putting that strategy in place can be complex. To implement a successful plan, here are four key steps to follow:
Maintain a focus on the mobile experience. Most agribusiness customers prefer to have options for accessing services online, on mobile devices and in a brick-and-mortar store. As of 2019, more than half of American adults owned a smartphone, making it an important tool for business communication and marketing efforts. When creating an omnichannel experience, the first place to focus is on mobile. Ensure that your agribusiness website is optimized and mobile friendly, including utilizing large visuals and simple navigation to help mobile users connect with the information they need.
Create a pleasing customer experience. For any business, relating and responding to customer needs is key to success. Customers are more likely to communicate their feelings regarding a negative experience than their satisfaction over a positive experience, and communication today moves at the click of a mouse. The center of any omnichannel strategy should be a personalized customer experience at every step. Taking advantage of customer data to personalize the omnichannel user experience and to develop insight-rich content and offerings will increase customer loyalty by increasing value. Additionally, leveraging social media login tools to gather customer details will allow the agribusiness to establish a complete customer profile. This creates the opportunity to use this information to select everything from marketing messaging, graphics and product placement to optimizing purchasing decisions and product bundles.
Grow relationships with customers across all available channels. Engagement with customers is critical to increasing business reach, market share and profits. In the digital age, increasing engagement means growing a referral network, taking the time to listen to customer concerns, providing avenues for customers to leave feedback and boosting search engine optimization (SEO). Holding contests on social media or through dedicated applications, interacting with customers online and demonstrating appreciation for positive reviews are important ways to further online reach and build brand loyalty. Cross promotions across channels maximize the reach of the omnichannel approach and encourage customers to remain actively engaged.
Make the most of user data. One potential challenge with establishing a successful omnichannel customer experience is not having a single view of customers across channels. From the beginning, it is crucial to standardize and organize data to maximize the learnings and results. Be sure the right infrastructure is in place to support a variety of social networks and their personalization. Supporting large amounts of data requires planning and putting tools in place that allow the data to be easily accessed and aggregated. Organized data will allow the business to scale marketing initiatives, target the right customers and make real-time decisions based on customer buying patterns.
Staying on Course
Through omnichannel strategies, agribusinesses have the opportunity to provide a more compelling buying experience and many experts agree that an omnichannel strategy will likely be a necessity for ag retailers wanting to succeed and profit in the digital age.
To ensure this helps push their business forward, it is important that each business measures and monitors their strategy to ensure they remain on track. When monitored in real-time, omnichannel customer feedback can allow a business to improve operations, buying decisions and price-points before business concerns arise; the key is to regularly monitor the customer information provided and use the available technology to track business trends. Additionally, agribusinesses should watch their competitors and other industries to learn from their use of omnichannel e-commerce strategies. By remaining on the cutting edge, agribusinesses will gain the most benefit from their omnichannel systems.