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Why aren’t farmers having better online buying experiences? 

Angus Chalmers

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Hi, I’m Angus Chalmers, the founder and Managing Director of RDP, a marketing company specialising in agribusiness and animal health.  

In this month’s instalment of The Inside Track, I’ll be discussing how farmers buy things and exploring whether their farm business online buying experience matches their personal online buying experience.  

Recently I read an article from McKinsey that illustrated that it clearly doesn’t. Back in 2018, McKinsey conducted a US study of farmers’ buying habits and followed up with another survey of 800 farmers in 2021. The findings showed that even though farmers are increasingly researching and buying their products and services online, the high-quality, personalised, and trustworthy interactions they need just aren’t there.  

I think that even though the research is based in the US, there are probably a lot of similarities to what we experience here in the UK. 

I’ve often wondered why there isn’t an Amazon for agriculture. How people purchase things in their business life and private life shouldn’t be that different. They should be able to get a service they can trust, that works smoothly, gives them a good customer experience, and provides the information they need.  

A people-centric sector  

The need for a personalised experience may stem from the fact that agriculture as a sector is very people centric, driven in many ways by the isolation of farming. The infrastructure of agriculture and the market is built on people going up and down drives, markets, demonstrations of machinery, and agronomists and peers giving advice. These personal interactions drive understanding and build trust; something that is often lacking with digital interactions. Despite the McKinsey survey highlighting the growth in digital engagement among farmers, particularly for researching and evaluating products and services, less than half who bought goods online in 2018 say they prefer to do so now.  

There are several reasons for this. While farmers may be able to easily research and buy products and services in their personal life, they often find that agricultural e-commerce comes up short. Products aren’t available when they need them, information on things like specifications and pricing are either missing, hard to find, or unclear, and it’s not at all easy to search for and compare products and services. It’s easy to understand why farmers who are used to the personal touch don’t have a good experience when they end up on a generic website that makes it hard to find what they need.  

The need for a personalised buying approach for farmers  

As we head into a future where efficiencies are needed more than ever, there’s no reason why farmers shouldn’t be able to compare prices, get good information, and be able to make a good buying decision. Farming is becoming more complicated, and with ever more calls on the farmer’s time, the thing they should be able to buy confidently is someone’s expertise. Buying the goods should be the easy and intuitive bit which follows on from being able to build a personalised, streamlined, efficient, and trusted relationship with a supplier. 

Agriculture is going through rapid change from many angles, but there’s a lot of progress to be made in the sector in terms of how farms access goods and information online. We are still a long way behind where the mainstream customer experience lies, and it will be the suppliers that offer a personalised and creative approach to serving farmers who will get ahead. It will be those that look outside of the sector, see what’s working, and make it work for the benefit of everyone in agriculture.  

As a sector, we need to work hard in how we provide our goods and services to farmers, and always challenge those norms. We need to ask questions – is Ag really a special case, and what is preventing us from having the same experience when buying our farm goods as we do with our personal buying experiences? 




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