Equipping Agricultural Retailers to Empower Rural Farmers in China
How Bayer Crop Science set out to scale its service to Chinese farmers in a highly fragmented market
Bayer Crop Science wanted to better understand growers’ and retailers’ needs in order to design the right communications, services and solutions.
IDEO identified design opportunities in shifting Bayer Crop Science’s retail stores to enable better engagement between the brand and the consumer.
As China's agriculture moves towards scale and sustainability, helping farmers grow healthier food with resilience is a matter of national economic security and individual livelihoods.
Bayer Crop Science—with its mission to accelerate China's agricultural modernization and benefit Chinese farmers and consumers—has provided high-quality products for millions of growers in China over 18 years. Yet its service relies heavily on multi-layered distributors and retailers across the country. The last mile of Bayer’s product delivery spreads across tens of thousands of highly fragmented retail stores, making the quality of service difficult to monitor and control.
Together with IDEO, Bayer Crop Science aimed to uncover new ways to engage with local farmers and retailers, and develop design concepts for its diverse set of retailers—establishing local relevance as well as the potential to scale nationwide.
Customer-centricity is what Bayer is trying to do. The retail store system is a very important touch point
Celina Chew, CEO of Bayer, Greater China
With this ambition in mind, a team formed by Bayer Crop Science and IDEO launched into a design sprint in the rice fields of China’s Anhui province. Field research uncovered multiple challenges facing Bayer Crop Science’s retailers. First, each store needed to serve more than one hundred farmers, many of whom rely solely on the store owner to understand how to use the products. Retailers struggled to meet a high daily demand for direct support in a way that provided a positive customer experience.
In turn, farmers felt they had insufficient access to expert advice. While many farmers shared similar needs, there was no system for aggregating requests or arranging group instruction. Given that many rice farmers are illiterate, pre-printed educational pamphlets had limited impact, and retailers lacked tools for providing targeted support. And because the retail stores were also used for storage, little space remained for educational or community programming.
A grower explains to an IDEO researcher how she depends on the retailers for product knowledge.
With these constraints in mind, the team needed to come up with ideas and design concepts that could be easily integrated into the daily lives of the retail store owners. The team brainstormed hundreds of concepts and quickly prototyped a select few. One retail store in Dangtu was transformed entirely into a live prototype set. Over three days, more than 50 farmers and retailers came through and provided feedback. From there, the team was able to make daily iterations of the concept, evolving the experience in real-time.
Clockwise from top left: grower archetypes developed by the team; shadowing the next generation grower in the field; Xiao Bao from Bayer's sales team showcases the possibility of a retail store that doubles as an education center.
The Bayer team was energized by the potential of these prototypes to enable more customer-centered retail experiences. An exhibition of the concepts was set up during the National Annual Sales Conference of Bayer Crop Science in China, during which a much wider audience from Bayer experienced not only the concepts, but also the immediate feedback from farmers.
We were very impressed by the fact that an external agency can not only grasp the essence of the agricultural material industry so quickly, but also turn these insights into actionable suggestions.
A member of the marketing team at Bayer Crop Science, China
One year after the project’s completion, more than half of the design concepts have been included in Bayer's support kit for dealers. In 2019, these concepts will be rolled out in more than 1,000 flagship stores across China.
The work has also accelerated Bayer Crop Science’s efforts to build an ongoing engagement mechanism with its retailers and growers. Its online platform, Bayer Joy Grower, now has more than 10,000 retailers and will be expanded to growers soon.