Understanding and Improving E-Commerce Use by Small Farms
This project used an online survey to gather and analyze information from farm businesses currently marketing over the Internet in the Northeast. Project participants with specific technical expertise are creating a web page in order to provide a consumer friendly Internet directory of agricultural businesses in West Virginia. We will present the research findings and provide training for agricultural businesspeople who will attend a workshop on e-marketing development in West Virginia. In order to expand the directory of WV products the workshops will provide an opportunity for agricultural businesspeople to sign up for the WV agricultural businesses web site. Workshop training will also include methods for evaluating the value of Internet marketing, and we will follow up with workshop attendees to determine if agricultural businesses have increased sales after being listed on the WV web site along with improved customer satisfaction. The workshops will present information gathered from experienced online marketers and provide advice on web page creation to encourage farm businesses to develop a web page for their business. We will maintain contact with workshop participants to determine how many have created web pages and encourage them to do so. A follow up survey with workshop attendees will determine if agricultural businesses which created web pages have increased sales within 1 year of implementation. For those who begin to sell over the web during that year, we will compare online sales to non-Internet sales to determine if income has increased.
Of the 160 agricultural businesspeople who attend workshops on e-commerce development, 150 (95%) will sign up for the West Virginia Specialty Products web site. Sixty (40%) of these businesses will have increased sales of 10-15% after 1 year of listing along with improved customer satisfaction. Forty (25%) of the 160 attendees will develop a web page for their business, and 75% of these (30) will increase sales by 5-10% within 1 year of implementation.
This project will help advance the goals in the Northeast SARE outcome statement that agriculture in the region will be “profitable” and “conducted by farmers who manage resources wisely and who are satisfied with their lifestyles.” By helping agricultural businesses develop this relatively new advertising medium this project will help them increase sales and improve profitability. Because the research part of this project will discover the best ways for agricultural businesses to use the web for advertising and selling, it will help new Internet users avoid some of the mistakes made by innovators in this arena. This should help farmers manage wisely one of their most valuable resources, their time, and thus help them to be more “satisfied with their lifestyles.”
We hypothesize that most farm businesses that develop web pages will use them as advertising for their operation. These business owners will analyze the value of the web page (and other advertising media) by tracking how customers hear about the business. In addition, operators will record sales to those web-using customers. We will survey these businesses after 1 year of listing on the web in order to determine the percentage increase in sales as well as their overall satisfaction with web-based advertising. We project that only a small number of farm-based businesses will actually begin to sell products over the Internet during this first year of web site listing. We will also contact these businesses to evaluate their experience with Internet sales.
First Milestone: Project coordinator will conduct research gathering and analyzing information from farm businesses currently marketing over the Internet.
The first milestone required developing a database of farm businesses and a survey instrument for gathering information. Letters were mailed to 5,392 farmers from all 13 states in the Northeast asking them to participate in the survey; 987 agreed to participate; 404 surveys were mailed, of which 300 were completed and returned. An Internet link and access code was emailed to 583 individuals with 346 questionnaires completed online.
Second Milestone: CSR and NRAC will make improvements to WV Specialty Products web page.
Problems with the WV Specialty Products web page meant a new home had to be found for the Internet directory of WV farm businesses. Arrangements were made to host this page on the WVU Extension Service Sustainable Agriculture web page. However, before this web page was developed, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) was contacted about their interest in hosting a West Virginia farm business web directory. Negotiations and planning with the WVDA are ongoing. This arrangement is ideal as farm business web directories in most states are hosted by their respective agriculture departments.
Third Milestone: A total of 160 agricultural businesspeople will attend 1 of 4 workshops on e-commerce development held throughout West Virginia.
The first workshop is scheduled for February 27-March 1, 2006 in Morgantown, WV as part of a “Marketing for Success Conference” sponsored by the West Virginia University (WVU) Extension Service. WVU Extension is currently planning additional mini-conferences at different locations which will include our e-commerce development workshops.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Basic data from the survey of farm businesses has been assembled and is currently available online at http://www.cafcs.wvu.edu/resm/faculty/Brown/EcommerceSurveyReport.htm as a pdf document http://www.cafcs.wvu.edu/resm/faculty/Brown/SurveyResults.pdf. We are currently analyzing the data to determine which types of farms, farmers, products, etc. are more likely to have adopted a web site as part of their marketing strategy.