Farms & Small Biz: Embrace Ecommerce to Survive COVID-19

CDC illustration of coronavirus

Who will survive the COVID-19 pandemic—and how?

As a marketer, I predict that the local farms, independent restaurants, and small businesses with the best chance of surviving through COVID-19 and its aftermath are the ones who have embraced ecommerce and delivery.

The online behemoths are experiencing a surge in demand. Amazon is hiring an additional 100,000 temporary workers for fulfillment and delivery and Walmart is looking for a whopping 150,000 more temps.

Online grocery shopping, which has lagged behind other types of ecommerce, is surging, too. According to Brick Meets Click, the number of US households who have shopped for groceries online jumped from 13% in August, 2019 to 31% in March 2020.

And this isn’t a passing thing. Brick Meets Click found that 43% of online grocery shoppers said they were extremely likely or very likely to continue using a specific grocery pickup or delivery service after coronavirus concern subsides.

One of the few bright spots in the pandemic is that many people are going out of their way to buy local as best they can. Consumers are buying gift cards and making outright donations to their favorite local businesses. The farmers markets that have managed to stay open in some form are getting swarmed, with farmers selling out of many items.

Nielsen sees signs that consumer preference for local over global brands may increase. Over the past few years, according to Nielsen, consumers have tended to display “strong preferences for local dairy and fresh produce brands and products versus those coming from further afield.” COVID-19 has generated anxiety around the origins of products and ingredients, so Nielsen expect the crisis to “fuel increased demand for even more local sourcing.”

Are small businesses ready?

Some farms and small businesses were already doing ecommerce before the epidemic or were selling on Amazon or other online commerce programs. In Good Egg Marketing’s experience, however, most local businesses lack the skills, tools, time, money, and/or interest to take online sales and promotion seriously.

Last night, I logged onto an aggregate farm delivery site to place an order. The navigation was terrible and the site kept freezing. I persisted with my order, because I wanted the food and to support these farms, but if I were new to ecommerce, I would have given up. Providing an online chat or phone number would probably save some sales.

Even many of the bigger businesses aren’t prepared. Food Dive recently shared a study of 200 brands worldwide by Profitero and Kantar that was taken before the pandemic, indicating that most were barely keeping up with their competitors online.

Getting up to speed

Fortunately, there are lots of great tools to help small farms and businesses do ecommerce. Many website platforms, such as WordPress, Squarespace, and Shopify, have built-in or add-on ecommerce components.

Some of the companies that specialize in building websites, online advertising, and search engine optimization are offering free or discounted services or training for small businesses. Search for a company that provides the service you need and ask if they’ll help.

Farmers have access to a wealth of online sales platforms. Oregon Tilth recently ran a great webinar about online sales platforms for farmers that you still access online. They also created a useful list of questions to keep in mind when considering one of the platforms.

In addition, the National Young Farmers Coalition created a list comparing the direct sales software platforms.

Act now if you can

All of this, of course, is easier said than done, if your business is temporarily closed or you’re an essential business that is straining to stay afloat. But if you can possibly scale up your online ordering capacity now, you’ll be in much better shape when the pandemic subsides.

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