A Downside To Ag Retailing In The Internet Age

Is too much information a bad thing? Yes, according to some ag retailers.

I’ve just returned from the annual Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) meeting, where most of the key players in the ag retail business gathered to exchange ideas, talk trends and share bits of insider information. As you might imagine, much of the industry talk at this event turned to how access to new and better technology is changing the way ag retailers and their grower-customers conduct their businesses. For the most part, everyone agrees that the proliferation of smartphones and tablets is rapidly changing how growers scout their fields, applicators run their big rigs and everyone shares data with the touch of a “send” button.

There were, however, a few ag retailers that felt these kinds of smart devices were “spoiling” their grower-customers – especially when it came to gathering information from online sources. “Many growers have so much access to information anymore that they look up field suggestions on the Internet before they even come to visit me,” said one Midwestern ag retailer. “So when I give them my suggestions, I feel like they are testing me a little. But the problem is some of the information they are finding on the Internet is wrong, so I end up having to help them tell good information from bad information.”

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Another ag retailer summed up this problem more directly: “When does technology make us order takers and not agronomists?”

Despite these concerns, I believe most ag retailers have nothing to fear in this area. Over and over in grower surveys and other stories from the ARA show floor, customers have made it clear that the interpersonal relationships they have with their ag retailers are highly valued. Therefore, I think information gathered over the Internet will remain secondary to that gained directly from the ag retailer themselves for some time to come.

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