Virtual Farmer's Market
What is a Virtual Farmers Markets?
This is something of an odd, yet extremely relevant topic. The idea of most farmers markets and fresh produce events is to establish a direct relationship between local farmers and entrepreneurs and their customers. It cuts out any middlemen and allows small businesses and local farmers to thrive.
So, most would say that a market experience is best suited for physical attendance. In fact, a lot of the experience has to do with interacting and engaging with the community and market members. You have the option to speak directly with farmers to better understand their growing processes and procedures. You also can see first-hand where your hard-earned money is going and who it is helping, other than simply lining the pockets of CEOs and board members at a large retail chain.
It's understandable to question how this would translate to an online or virtual market. After all, you’d be sitting in your home or behind your smartphone, interacting with others virtually. Let’s be honest, buying a product online from retailers like Amazon or eBay is vastly different than visiting a brick-and-mortar store to make a purchase. Even buying something from Wal-Mart.com is wholly different from buying the same products in an actual Wal-Mart store.
It begs the question how would a virtual farmers market be set up? How would it even work?
The first thing to note is that absolutely, yes, there are virtual farmers markets. To add to that, there are many options when it comes to a virtual or online experience. To name a few services, there is Agribolo, National Agriculture Market (E-NAM), Seasonal Roots, Wildkale, and many others.
How Does a Virtual Farmers Market Work?
Is there really a stark difference between a virtual farmers market and an actual local market? Surprisingly, nope.
Most online services do their best to mimic and reproduce that “connectedness” you feel from visiting a local fresh market. For starters, participating vendors have all the necessary tools to interact with customers. There are usually email systems and forums where you can have discussions about particular vendors or goods. You can also receive updates from your favorite vendors, including inventory additions.
The market operations are actually quite simple.
A vendor will list their items or goods in the virtual market, and let customers know how much they have available for purchase. Customers have a certain length of time to prepare and then the market opens, just like it would at a physical location.
For the sake of this article, we’ll say the virtual market opens on Sunday. On that day, the market manager would send out emails or app notifications letting everyone know the market is open, along with information about when it closes. So, let’s say it closes on Tuesday, which would be the last day customers can buy anything from vendors. From Sunday until Tuesday, the market is open and held.
From there, two things can be done to further the sale. Either the vendors can label and ship their goods directly to a market location or building, or they can ship directly to the customers. In the latter scenario, there’s nothing more that needs to be done. If the vendors choose to ship to a central location, however, then the customers need to travel to that spot and pick up their purchased goods.
Direct Interactions and Relationships
One thing that a local market can offer customers is the option to build direct relationships and lines of communication with farmers and vendors. If you have questions about a particular food or crop, you can go right to the source. You can learn how the food was grown, what chemicals or methods were used to produce it, and even how good the yield was. Most local vendors are extremely friendly and will openly communicate with you.
It would seem like you’d lose that experience with a virtual market or online event, but that’s actually not the case.
Customers can still get to know the farmers and vendors that participate in their market, and they can even order and interact with single vendors that happen to be their favorite. Vendors and customers can communicate via online forums, email and chat tools, and even through the marketplace directly.
But there is still one concern that you don’t usually have to worry about with local markets. Market managers set restrictions on the type of goods that can be sold, and how far vendors can travel. This prevents stiff competition and price gouging by keeping the vendors - and goods - local. So, you won’t see a vendor from across the country selling crops or goods that are out of season.
Market managers still decide who can participate as far as vendors are concerned, and also dictate what goods and items can be sold. Therefore, there’s still plenty of control over the market to prevent competition and price gouging.
How Are Administrative Fees Generated?
Of course, the lifeblood of any market is the administrative revenue. For a local market, this is what helps pay and sustain the event, covering the rental and maintenance costs for a location and operating costs for when the market is open. It also pays the salaries and wages of those directly involved in the market - other than the vendors, obviously.
Online, this will work a little differently. Since most of the sales and facilitation are done online, through a virtual market, it’s tough to imagine the revenue going into paying for a physical location and other elements of running a market.
In reality, the vendors agree to pay a certain amount of their earnings in fees to keep the market open and active. It’s never anything egregious and is most definitely fair. The concern is keeping the market afloat, obviously, and getting those involved paid what they are owed.
So, you see, a virtual or online farmers market is just as sustainable and profitable for vendors as a conventional one.
What About Product Pick-Up Locations?
In the case where customers must pick-up any purchased goods, the local pick-up location will be determined by the market manager. The manager may also take into account the service region for the online market, and where the vendors are located when choosing a pick-up spot.
Think of it as like a drive-through window at a fast-food restaurant. Once the purchase or transaction is completed, you travel to the pick-up location to collect your goods. This also gives local farmers the opportunity to package and label their goods before selling them. This is something unique to virtual markets. Yes, farmers and vendors can label goods they sell at an actual market, but most of the time this is not done, especially when customers are buying a small number of fruit or vegetables.
So, in that way, you could claim that online markets offer opportunities that local events do not. The same could be said of local events, however, like the community and culture you get from browsing with other like-minded customers and vendors from the community.