Predicting what is going to happen in any industry is tricky business. A simple misreading of the tea leaves and your bold prediction can look downright foolish. Just ask your local meteorologist how it is when he or she gets the weather forecast wrong. No fun.
Fortunately for CropLife magazine, each year we invite several industry insiders to offer their unique perspectives on the season ahead (see the January outlook issue). These experts weigh in on issues, challenges and predictions for the upcoming year, and are typically right on the money. While I’m certainly not at the prophetic level as these folks, I have been studying digital trends in ag retail for the past five years and have a fairly strong feel for where things are heading. From understanding their social media habits, to analyzing how they use their mobile devices for work, I have regularly surveyed ag retailers on the subject of computer technology.
And despite every indication that this technology is transforming ag retail, I decided to take a contrarian view at the industry’s future. Thus, here are five predictions that WON’T come to fruition by 2015:
- Mobile devices will completely replace desktop/laptop PCs. The thought of smartphones and tablets completely eliminating the need for personal computers by 2015 is not so far-fetched. It is certainly trending that way. Consider 68% of retailers are using tablets for work, according to a recent survey, and another 10% plans to purchase one within the next 6 months. But the phasing out of desktop and laptop computers may take some time for retailers. Only 15% said they use their mobile devices more than their PCs, indicating it may be several years — if at all — before the iPad and iPhone completely dominate their computing needs.
- Texting will be the most popular communication with grower-customers. I’m sure the next generation of retailers and farmers would embrace this prediction if it came true. I just don’t see it happening. If anything, mobile technology is enhancing the in-person communication between retailer and grower, not replacing it. Tablets, in particular, are providing an excellent “show-and-tell” tool for retailers to take with them on sales calls. While 30% say they are “texting more often” than they were just 5 years ago, most retailers still claim e-mail, phone calls and personal visits are still extremely critical for customer service.
- Weather will be surpassed as the “most indispensable” mobile app. When we asked ag retailers in a recent survey to name one mobile app that is most indispensable to them, I was amazed at how many responded with business management applications instead of agriculture-specific ones. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. For every agronomic task a retailer does in a given day, there are likely several business functions that also take place. That’s why programs such as Dropbox and Documents To Go are near the top of ag retailers’ “can’t live without” app list. But most every decision still starts with the weather, and that’s why it will likely remain the most indispensable mobile app in 2015 and beyond.
- Digital edition of CropLife magazine will be preferred over print version. This prediction (that won’t happen) is actually more of a prelude of things to come. A digital edition of CropLife is debuting this fall, giving our readers the option to view the magazine on their iPads, as well as the long-standing print version. But will the electronic form of CropLife — or any industry magazine for that matter — become the medium of choice for most retailers? Perhaps down the road it will, but unlikely by 2015. This comment from a survey respondent is reflective of most retailers who still favor the print magazine: “I can’t put an electronic magazine on the table in the waiting room for growers to read. Plus, I am on the computer so much for work, I don’t want to go home and stare at another electronic screen when I could just curl up with a real magazine.”
- Social media will be an afterthought. I’m the first to admit I have a hard time separating business from pleasure when it comes to social media. Mobile technology has enabled us to multi-task to such an extent that the once-clear delineations of personal life and work life have all but disappeared. So where do ag retailers stand on social media? While they’ve been slower to embrace it than other Internet technologies such as video or Webinars, 54% said they have used social media for work purposes in a 2013 survey. While there will always be some who think it’s a time waster, enough retailers (45%) are finding professional value (e.g., customer interaction, agronomic advice) in using social networks like Facebook and Twitter that it should remain a viable communication tool for this audience in the foreseeable future.
Sources: 2012 Ag Retailer Internet Use Survey, 2012 Ag Retailer Mobile Usage Survey, 2013 Ag Retailer Tablet Use Survey, 2013 Ag Retailer Social Media Survey