Christchurch, New Zealand
Wellington, New Zealand
Increase in e-commerce revenue during first weeks of COVID-19 lockdown
Serve farmers and ranchers today and in the future with a strong technology foundation
Keep stores operating under lockdown, providing essential supplies to rural communities
Replace an ineffective online store that had lagging orders and revenue
Drove digital transformation preparing for the future of farming
Built a Click and Collect system in 3.5 weeks, supporting shareholders during a pandemic
Grew e-commerce revenue by 30X during first weeks of COVID-19 lockdown, with 1K transactions in the first week
When CEO Peter Reidie joined Farmlands in 2015, he saw an organisation ripe for transformation. The rural co-operative provides agricultural supplies to 70,000 shareholder customers—agriculturalists of all kinds working the land and raising animals. In his view, the rural co-operative was very good at delivering what farmers and ranchers needed five years ago, but not what they might need in the future.
“We want to also excel at providing what farmers and ranchers need five years from now, not just today,” says Reidie. “We know technology will play a key role in that mission. That includes things like traceability, genetics and crop management, as more consumers demand visibility into how their food is produced.”
Reidie knew it would be a journey. Two years before he arrived, the co-op had undergone a merger, joining Farmlands on New Zealand’s North Island with CRT, its counterpart on the South Island. The combination turned Farmlands into one of the country’s largest companies, with 82 shops and NZ$2.7 billion in annual turnover. That’s good for shareholders, who benefit from its increased buying power and diverse services, including retail, fuel distribution and credit cards.
But there was still work to do. The merger left the co-op with a lot of technical debt, including five ERP systems and an outdated point-of-sale (POS) system. In shops and in the back office, there was no single approach to doing common tasks such as sales and inventory. And the two organisations hadn’t fully integrated into a single culture. Reidie aimed to bring them together through a sweeping digital transformation.
“We wanted to turn ourselves around and become more outward-facing—more focused on serving our shareholders effectively,” says Reidie. “The right technology can help us play to our strength as an expert advisor to farmers and ranchers.”
For the next three years, Farmlands and its technology partner Datacom focused on transformation, replacing older systems with a Microsoft-based technology backbone, including Microsoft Dynamics 365 on Microsoft Azure and adopting a cloud-first approach. The co-op went live with the Microsoft stack near the end of 2019 and prepared for the next stage—e-commerce. This was a crucial piece of the digital strategy, bringing Farmlands expertise online and catering to new generations of tech-savvy farmers.
“Our previous online store was doing really average numbers in terms of orders and revenue, so we pulled it down in preparation for a new version,” says Richard Wilkinson, Chief Digital Officer at Farmlands. “The plan was to have a nice, relaxed autumn release of the new e-commerce site.”
Things didn’t go according to plan.
Chief Digital Officer at Farmlands
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit New Zealand, the country announced a lockdown. Farmlands was deemed an essential business, supplying farms and ranches with the materials they need to work the land and keep animals alive. Its shops closed to the public, but the co-op needed to find a way to continue fulfill orders. In the 36 hours leading up to the lockdown, Farmlands got a taste of just how high the order volume could get in a crisis.
“It was bedlam,” says Wilkinson. “Vehicles were queued up at our shops and everyone was buying about 10 times what they would typically buy. I think we sold a month is worth of chicken feed in a day.”
Farmlands had a powerful new ERP platform in the cloud, which helped centralise and streamline orders. But it had no e-commerce site. So when shops closed, shareholders flocked to phone and email in overwhelming volumes.
Suddenly, Farmlands had to stand up an e-commerce site much faster and sooner than planned. The co-op turned to Datacom and Adobe for help building a Click and Collect store. The goal was to create something highly secure and functional in less than four weeks, using best-of-breed technology with Adobe Experience Manager Managed Services.
Getting a minimum viable product up and running with an aggressive timeline was a challenge, but Datacom and Adobe came through for Farmlands. “At one point, we had a team of 40 people working on the Click and Collect store,” says Wilkinson. “Datacom worked around the clock and on weekends. It’s an amazing team—and the answer from them is never ‘no’.”
In three and a half weeks, the team built the Click and Collect store from scratch, featuring 2,000 of Farmlands’ highest-selling products. The product information comes from the Microsoft Dynamics 365 system and Adobe Experience Manager serves the content online.
“Customers select the products they want to purchase and then one of our employees calls them to confirm that they have what they need, answer any questions, collect payment and arrange pickup,” said Reidie. “Click and Collect will be with us for as long as needed to keep everyone safe. The reception has been wonderful both from our employees and shareholders.”
The site caught on quick, with hundreds of orders pouring in every day. In just 23 days, the Click and Collect store brought in more than three times more revenue than the previous site did in a whole year.
“E-commerce volumes have grown 30x. In just the first six days, we had 1,000 transactions,” says Wilkinson. “Online revenue is now healthy and growing, whereas before it was marginal.”
Setting up the Click and Collect store involved more than just technology. It was a completely new approach for virtually everyone in the organisation. Farmlands had to get its people and processes up to speed, all while under lockdown.
“We had to train store employees on how to take orders, pull products from the shelves and assemble them at the front of the shop for drive-through pickups—and make sure all the data was reflected in the systems,” says Reidie.
Farmlands faces the added challenge of working with employees and shareholders who have a wide range of technology skills. Some employees still tracked inventory on paper, while others were fully versed in digital systems. It’s the same for shareholders.
“Some farmers still use a pencil and paper to record daily temperatures and rainfall or to keep track of their sheep counts,” Reidie says. “COVID-19 has pushed more people to go digital, but it’s an ongoing process.”
For Farmlands, that’s a good reminder to find a good balance between technology and its traditional strength, providing personal guidance to the farmers and ranchers it serves.
“In a Farmlands store, the average shareholder interaction lasts 20 to 30 minutes,” says Reidie. “People come in with a problem and they’re looking for someone to help them to find a solution. They come to us for advice.”
As the e-commerce site evolves, it needs to mimic that in-person exchange as much as possible. The goal is to provide a lot of product information and comparisons, helping people understand their options and making it easy to find what they need. Today, Farmlands and Datacom continue to iterate on the Click and Collect solution, adding richer educational content and marketing capabilities. The site is a launching point for the co-op as it works toward a full e-commerce platform, eventually using Adobe Analytics and Adobe Target to create rich, personalised experiences for its shareholders.
Reidie knew his organisation’s transformation would be a journey, but he couldn’t have anticipated all the bends in the road—or how far Farmlands would go. With an integrated technology stack, the Click and Collect solution has given Farmlands a strong foundation for its e-commerce initiative, through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. That will be essential as the co-op continues to orient itself toward what farmers and ranchers will need in the future, not just today.
“While circumstances are outside of our control, we made the most out it and are excited about the future of Farmlands e-commerce,” said Reidie. “We have a system that works while under COVID-19 restrictions and can support us easily in the future. We’re excited about how the Adobe, Microsoft and Datacom partnerships enable us to best serve our shareholders.”