4 Internet Use Trends Shaping Ag Retail

A decade is a long time in anyone’s life, but it’s an eternity on the Web. Just consider these statistics on Internet use: In 2002, the Internet had 569 million users – about 9% of the global population – who averaged about 46 minutes a day online. In 2012, Internet users reached 2.27 billion – or one in every third person worldwide – who spent an average of four hours a day online.

Needless to say, our Internet habits have changed significantly over the last decade. The same holds true for ag retailers. The CropLife Media Group (CLMG) surveyed this segment of agriculture on their Internet use three times over a five-year period (2008, 2010 and 2012). After conducting our most recent survey in October 2012, we found four major Internet use trends among ag retailers:

1. Growing number of ag retail Websites. Service-oriented ag retailers go to great lengths to ensure they keep current grower-customers and find new ones. They’ll help customers mitigate their risk and execute their cropping plans, which are more complex than ever due to an increasing number of business and agronomic challenges. So when I find an ag retail business that doesn’t have a Website, it is mind-boggling to me. In a business where service is king, a company Website should be a no-brainer. Yet in 2008, about one in four retailers didn’t have an online presence.

Fortunately, the number of businesses with a Website has steadily increased, jumping to 79% in 2010 and 87% in 2012. And while this means 13% of ag retailers still don’t have a Website, at least it’s a step in the right direction. Any Website is better than none at all, and hopefully by the time we conduct the next Internet use survey the number of companies with a site will be closer to 100%.

For a list of the best industry Websites, be sure to check out “Top 10 Ag Retail Websites You Have To Visit.”

2. Retailers spending more time online. Just like the general public, ag retailers are spending significantly more time online than they were just several years ago. According to our survey, 70% of ag retailers said they spend one or more hours on the Internet for work-related purposes, up 30% from 2008. The mobile revolution has certainly contributed to this trend. Consider nearly 75% of ag retailers used a smartphone or tablet in 2012, up 27% from 2010 and an incredible 52% from 2008.

More smartphone use means more use of mobile apps, many of which are Web-based. In fact, one in four retailers said they use an ag-related app “several times a week,” according to CLMG’s “2012 Ag Retailer Mobile Usage Survey.” Increased social media activity has also impacted ag retailers’ time spent online. More than half of ag retailers (54%) said they participated in social media in 2012, compared to 36% in 2010 and 12% in 2008.

3. Multiple devices becoming the norm. How ag retailers are connecting to the Web is also evolving. In 2008, the PC was their main source of Internet access. In 2012, while 99% still used a desktop/laptop computer to go online for business purposes, another 74% also used a smartphone (up 27% from 2010, and 52% from 2008) and 38% used a tablet.

The frequency of using these devices still favors the desktop/laptop computer. Nearly half of respondents (44%) said they used their PC more than their mobile device(s) for work, while one in four retailers said they used them about the same amount. Not surprisingly, ag retailers mostly used their tablets in the cab and/or field (23%), compared to just 7% who used them mostly in the office.

For more information, you can read “5 Mobile Use Trends Shaping Ag Retailers.”

4. Interactive technology adoption rising. When asked what Internet technologies they have ever used, 79% of ag retailers said they have attended a Webinar, up 12% from 2010 and 47% from 2008. This upward trend was reconfirmed in January when more than 450 people — a record attendance — viewed CLMG’s Webinar, “Mini Bulk/IBC Container Compliance and Recycling: Best Practices from TPSA.”

In 2012, retailers also used mobile apps (64%), video (60%), social media (54%), blogs (38%), and podcasts (27%). All of these technology uses have increased among ag retailers over the past two years. Finally, more than one-third of respondents (35%) said they have shared online content (e.g., articles, video) with others on a weekly basis, including by e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

If you wish to receive an Executive Summary of the “2012 Ag Retailer Internet Use Survey,” please e-mail me at matt@croplife.com.

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