Tablets are hitting the computing sweet spot for ag retailers.
With added portability over laptops, and larger, easier-to-read screens than smartphones, tablets give these mobile ag professionals the best of both worlds.
But perhaps the most important attribute that retailers appreciate in tablets is their simplicity. According to CropLife Media Group's 2013 Ag Retailer Tablet Use Survey, 89 percent of respondents said "ease of use" was the feature/functionality they value most in a tablet. For an industry largely made up of men in their 50s, technology that offers a simple, intuitive user experience is a must.
"Mobility is crucial. The tablet allows me to be better at time management," said one retailer. "At the ripe old age of 56, I like its larger screen readability compared to my iPhone."
Nearly 70 percent of retailers are now using tablets for work, and another 10% said they (or their company) plan to purchase one within the next six months, according to our survey. But how are these devices impacting the way retailers work? Here are five key findings that have emerged from the study that help answer this question:
1. Multiple locations becoming the norm. Tablets are capable of many tasks that were previously only possible with a laptop or desktop PC, especially with keyboard options now available (e.g., Bluetooth for iPad), as well as longer battery life. This improved functionality - coupled with tablets' ultra-portability - has many ag professionals using these devices wherever they choose.
According to our survey, retailers are using their tablets in three primary locations: "in the office" (85 percent), "in the field" (80 percent) and "in the cab" (54 percent). "They are a lot easier to work with than using a laptop in the sprayer or truck cab," said one respondent.
2. Increased productivity. Tablets offer an easier way for retailers to check tasks off their "to-do" lists. Nearly 80 percent of respondents are "more productive than before" they started using their tablets. In addition to ease of use and portability, retailers also value the fast start-up (63 percent) and touchscreen interface (56 percent).
In addition, 82 percent of retailers said they think their tablets make them a "better multi-tasker."
3. Versatile functionality. "My tablet is another tool in the toolbox," said one survey respondent. From "checking e-mail" (94%) and "accessing agronomic information" (86 percent), to "searching the Internet" (81 percent) and "tracking the weather" (78 percent), the number of tasks retailers are completing with their tablets is considerable.
Other specific jobs getting done via tablets include data management, field mapping, scouting and variable rate planting. But this tool hasn't been a silver bullet for all types of work. Spreadsheet work - although there are likely apps available to improve it - is "not very tablet friendly," according to some retailers.
4. Enhanced customer interaction. Multi-use tablets are also enhancing the retailer-customer relationship. Comments such as "it's an excellent tool to use for customer sales calls" and "handy for show-and-tell with my growers" were common among respondents. And tablet use is not just going mainstream for retailers. More than 75 percent of respondents said their grower-customers are also using them on the farm.
Perhaps one retailer said it best: "I would much rather be proactive, than reactive on the technology front. We need to be ahead of the curve for our customers."
5. Improved organization. One of the biggest reasons why tablets are enhancing customer interaction is because they help retailers stay organized. With the entire agriculture industry moving into a data-centric era, being able to quickly access, sort and present information for customers is an absolute must. Precision agriculture, in particular, has been a key driver of this movement, and retailers who can inform farmers on what to grow, where to grow it and when to grow it, can gain a competitive advantage.
"I personally like to use my tablet because it allows me to have a lot of information with me in small package, instead of having to carry along a lot of binders," said one respondent.
There are also a number of apps that are helping tablet users get more organized (see "Top 10 Most Indispensable Apps Used By Ag Retailers"). From handy note-taking apps like Evernote, to cloud-based, file storage systems such as Dropbox, more and more retailers are using these tools to improve their organization.