Outside of agriculture, there’s a change going on in the world of retail. Today’s customers are becoming savvier at using web-based tools for buying, and they’re seeking a different level of customer service.
What does that mean for agriculture? Farmers are consumers, too, and they’ve changed their personal buying habits. That’s going to start spilling into their retail relationships.
WinField United sees that trend happening, and over the past few years it has been working to pull together a range of tools and technologies into a single platform for both retailers and their customers. “Think about how you buy as a consumer,” says Joel Wipperfurth, director of e-business for WinField United. “It’s changing. You expect information to be available.”
Wipperfurth gets into the details of how farmers buy, and his company has been researching these changes across all its platforms. The cooperative has been leveraging its technology from precision ag to decision ag over the years. But what about the buying level? “Farmers are ‘B-to-B’ in how they do business,” he says.
B-to-B, or business-to-business, is how farmers interact from farm to retailer. They build on their relationships with retailers on a personal level. “You might get a recommendation online at a website from a retailer for specific products, but the farmer will reach out to the retailer to discuss that by phone or in person,” Wipperfurth says. “We would want a system that can accommodate that kind of relationship.”
Creating a new platform
Three WinField United retailers are ramping up a new platform that allows them to interact with customers in a new way. The platform is a kind of digital “dashboard,” where customers can log in to check key information about their accounts, but may also find news and information from the retailer. And it’s built to work on a variety of devices, from desktop computer to smartphone.
The opportunity in ag retail is to fine-tune the relationship process so farmers can get what they need more easily with the level of support they expect. Wipperfurth notes that in retail, there are two approaches. Home Depot, for example, is not where you “shop.” “I go to Home Depot looking for a 3-inch nut and a washer,” Wipperfurth explains. “If you know what you’re looking for, Home Depot is a pretty good spot to find that.”
For the ag retailer, sometimes the farmer doesn’t know what he or she needs, and the retailer has to help answer that question. Other times, farmers know what they want and just need the retailer to fill the order. The WinField United e-business strategy has to be built to fill both needs, Wipperfurth says.
For example, if the retailer talks to a customer about a specific field and gets information about that field, a specific recommendation can be made. “The retailer might call and say they know you have a problem on a specific field, and ‘We talked about a solution,’ he’ll say,” Wipperfurth notes. “We took a tissue sample, and here’s some product in your ‘retail cart’ that we talked about.”
That cart is the online portal the retailer can use to interact with the customer. The farmer could easily make the purchase of the suggested items, and the new system can handle that with delivery options — or the farmer can call the retailer to have a deeper conversation about the recommendations, then elect to come in and buy the product. Wipperfurth explains that this new system has been designed to handle all those different retail scenarios, yet provide farmers more information than they’ve had in the past.
New platform in practice
One of the three retailers that’s gone live with the e-business platform is GreenPoint Ag, a Memphis, Tenn.-based retailer that serves several states in the South and part of Texas and is finding value in having information available to the customer so easily.
GreenPoint has worked with WinField United through a series of innovations, from precision ag tools to new decision ag tools that include crop modeling and predictive technology. This latest piece, that ties them all together, is the e-business platform. “We worked with [WinField United] to design our website,” says Tim Witcher, president and CEO, GreenPoint. “We wanted it to be a customer-friendly site, one they would want to go to for information of the day.”
The site now includes markets, weather and news updates that the retailer can provide customers. The new customer portal is a major move for the business. “We now have a platform that allows our customers to go in and get into the different programs they use for their farms from a single place,” Witcher says. “They can go in and look at their accounts, and this improves their ease in working with us.”
Adds Ben Carlisle, ag technology manager, GreenPoint: “It was a challenge to build this. Everybody is used to having a customer experience through Amazon or Walmart. There are expectations around what the customer experience should look like. It was a challenge to meet their expectations, and we’re disrupting our own business to make sure we provide the customer the right experience.”
Carlisle explains that this new system provides a one-stop shop for customers. He notes they can go in, and all the information about their land is in one place. “Two years ago, that would have been split between four or five different platforms,” he says. “With our platform, all those tools — from R7, field monitoring, field forecasting, FieldAlytics, statements and invoices — are rolled into one. They can go into the site and see that.”
As Witcher adds, today GreenPoint customers have quick access to all their information. And they can see their monthly statement immediately and get detailed information about purchases. “They don’t have to wait for that statement to arrive in the mail,” he says.
Instant access to all aspects of farm information. A platform focused on the way consumers are changing buying habits. And an enhanced way to interact with the retailer. WinField United is achieving that with this new platform, but as Wipperfurth concludes, “We’re just getting started here, and we see a lot of opportunity for where this can go.”
WinField United will be expanding the platform to more retailers in the coming months. For customers it will mean a new way to interact with retailers. Stay tuned.