When you think of eCommerce, what comes to mind? A laptop? A warehouse? Nicely designed packages, shipping out to every corner of the country? Chances are, you’re probably not picturing rural America…and you wouldn’t be alone. Despite the massive growth in eCommerce over the past several years, small business owners in rural areas have yet to embrace digital retail as much as entrepreneurs in metropolitan cities. However, the selling potential of rural America is untapped and enormous. It’s time to bring eCommerce to the heartland, baby!
How Tapping the Selling Potential of Rural America Can Help the Economy
According to a post published by Amazon, working-age adults in rural America represent nearly 15% of our country’s population. However, annual revenues of rural businesses account for only 3.7% of total gross revenue of the entire United States economy! Most entrepreneurs in rural states focus on growing their businesses locally, and as a result, eCommerce hasn’t yet taken off in rural America as much as it has in metropolitan cities.
When looking at these figures, it’s easy to see how much our economy stands to gain once more rural American sellers embrace eCommerce. Times are changing, and there’s no reason for rural American entrepreneurs to get left in the dust as our economy rockets further into the world of digital commerce.
What Rural American Sellers Need
eBay seller Bill Ingersoll recently published a post that outlines his experience as an eCommerce seller in rural America. It’s worth a read and offers genuine insight into what e-sellers in rural states face when trying to compete in the global marketplace. According to Ingersoll, rural American sellers need three key things in order to unlock their full selling potential. We’ve outlined these below:
Affordable USPS Shipping
Access to affordable shipping is the cornerstone of any successful eCommerce business. Online sellers don’t have to pay the same overhead as physical retail locations, such as rent, utilities, labor, etc. However, e-retailers have to pay for shipping packages out to their customers, and this gets expensive. More often than not, keeping shipping costs low is the difference between whether or not a small online business succeeds or fails!
Simply put, shipping with the United States Postal Service is the only feasible solution for rural e-sellers. USPS provides the best mix of affordable cost and quick delivery times, and they offer fair rates to every American, no matter where they live in the country (or territories). However, President Trump’s Postal Task Force recently suggested categorizing eCommerce shipments as “non-essential.” Doing so would raise the Postal Service’s rates on all eCommerce parcels, which would undoubtedly hurt rural entrepreneurs more than anyone.
“We need to make sure that the U.S. Postal Service never starts treating rural parts of the country as ‘non-essential,'” writes Ingersoll in the post.
Broadband Internet Connection
Secondly, access to a quick and reliable Internet connection is another crucial part of the equation. Broadband access is the glue that holds eCommerce together, and without it, the system simply would cease to function.
“Rural America needs broadband access,” says Ingersoll. “My business exists because eBay exists, and almost all of my revenue comes through selling on the platform.”
Access to the Global Marketplace (Which Everyone with Internet Already Has)
Many people are under the impression that globalization hurt rural America. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Globalization and the advent of the Internet created endless opportunities to connect buyers and sellers, no matter where they are in the world! This includes the scores of people in rural America who can sell and ship products anywhere in the world just as easily as someone in a major metropolis.
Ingersoll says, “I’m selling parts overseas, to countries like the United Kingdom and Canada. It doesn’t take a PhD to see that the global economy gives me access to hundreds of millions of potential customers, and that’s where my business is going to grow.”
Amazon and eBay’s Thoughts on Unlocking Rural America’s Potential
Small business owners like Ingersoll aren’t the only ones speaking on this issue. Both Amazon and eBay weighed in on strategies to unlock the selling potential of rural America.
First, spokespeople from the two companies suggested expanding education and training programs in rural states. These programs will help foster innovation and entrepreneurship. Secondly, they alleged that the United States needs to do a better job helping rural areas attract tech talent. Typically, tech talent gravitates towards major metropolis areas such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Chicago. Attracting tech talent could mean local governments offering tech companies tax incentives to headquarter in rural areas. Lastly, they argue that increasing the availability of high-speed Internet and mobile connectivity will lead to more rural American sellers embracing eCommerce.
All of these points make a ton of sense. However, we want to leave you with one simple statistic. In Amazon’s press release that we mentioned at the start of the article, the company notes that unlocking the selling potential of rural America could add $140 billion to the US economy by 2021! If that number doesn’t prompt a mic drop, we don’t know what will.