A Rapid Response Quick Reference Guide to Identifying, Developing, and Deploying Web-Based Strategies to Sell Your Farm Products During the COVID-19 Crisis and Beyond
As market demand shifts due to the spread of COVID-19, some farmers are having to change the way they have traditionally sold and marketed their products to sustain their farm businesses. Selling products through an online platform is one strategy farmers can use to help reach existing and new customers during this uncertain time. This guide serves as a quick reference to help producers begin to think through the process of selling their products online.
Assessing your Local E-commerce and Delivery Environment
There may be infrastructure already in place to help get your products to market through various online and delivery platforms near your farm, such as the following:
- South Carolina Department of Agriculture Where to Find Local Food During COVID-19
- South Carolina MarketMaker – if your farm is near a neighboring farm or food delivery organization that is already online or making deliveries, you can explore potential partnership opportunities.
- Certified South Carolina program
Connecting (or Reconnecting) with Your Customers
If you do not have a website, or do but want to expand your online outreach, social media outlets such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter provide you with the opportunity to market your business directly to potential and current customers. Many companies offer services to build and host websites, but there are costs involved (i.e., domain registration, hosting), whereas social media accounts are free. Social media companies provide helpful tutorials to help you create and manage an account, as well as track and evaluate activity by you and your visitors. You can further expand your social media reach by asking customers or partners, as well as mangers of venues you sell at (i.e., restaurants and farmers markets) if they will promote your business on their social media accounts or websites. Asking customers for testimonials is always a good strategy for creating additional content for social media channels.
Developing an Order and Payment Process
Provide information about your product offerings and the ordering and payment process, as well as your preferred method of contact (i.e., phone number, email address, online order form), on your website and social media accounts. Be sure to create ordering timeframes that will provide you with enough time to harvest, pack, and prepare products for delivery.
A website and transaction portal that automates the order and payment processes will cut down on the amount of time that you spend handling and compiling those details. It is also more efficient to have customers pay in advance. While you may have to issue a refund or two from collecting money upfront, you won’t have to handle money directly for the majority of your sales, and payment is assured. A transaction portal will also deposit money directly into your banking or payment account of choice. There are several types of payment transaction portals, including Square, Venmo, PayPal, etc. Research the available portal options to evaluate the services offered and transaction fees applied to identify a portal that will fit your needs.
There are many options for delivering orders, including individual home deliveries, neighborhood “captains” or drop points, and curbside drops. Consider adding a delivery fee for home deliveries to cover fuel and vehicle maintenance costs. You may also want to offer on-farm pick-up to decrease the amount of travel.
When planning deliveries, map out your delivery route ahead of time to ensure you are being efficient with your travel time. You can install the Google Maps app on your phone to utilize for up to nine stops, or you can use an app to handle more stops, such as Multi-Stop Route Planner (available on Google Play). It may make sense to organize your customers into delivery zones and assign different delivery days among zones. Make preparations for an organized delivery trip by labeling orders and loading them according to the order in which they will be distributed. You should notify customers of your delivery time window in advance so they can ensure they are available to receive their order or otherwise provide you with special delivery instructions.
- Look professional, wear apparel with your farm name and logo if you have any.
- Create signage or order a magnet for your delivery vehicle with your farm name and phone number, as well as a website or social media URL.
- Provide samples of other products with orders to encourage future purchases.
- Be sure to follow health and safety protocols (outlined below).
Keeping You and Your Customers Safe During COVID-19
The US Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19.1,2 However, it is always important to follow good hygiene practices when harvesting, packing, and delivering food products.
- Always wash your hands before and after packing and delivering orders.
- Wear gloves and a mask when packing and delivering orders.
- Sanitize all surfaces that will come in contact with your products (vehicle, coolers, totes, boxes, etc.).
- Make sure you wash and sanitize reusable packaging and totes in between uses.
- Respect CDC social distancing guidelines.3
Visit the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Agribusiness Program Team COVID-19 Resources webpage for more information.
As always, consult with your professional advisors and management team before making decisions and for any further clarifications and details that will be specific to your own situation.
- Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). Food Supply Chain. Washington (DC): US Department of Agriculture [accessed 2020 May 26]. https://www.usda.gov/coronavirus/food-supply-chain
- Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Frequently Asked Questions. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [accessed 2020 May 22]. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html.
- Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Social Distancing. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [accessed 2020 May 22]. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/social-distancing.html.