By Kam Phillips-Sadler
Post COVID-19, consumer behavior in rural areas will be forever shaped by two segments:
<aside> 👩🏻🌾 City Slickers: Young families and couples seeking reprieve from the physical, security and financial constraints of urban life.
<aside> 👴🏻 Current Residents: Long-term residents of rural areas who are now introduced to consumer conveniences but will require innovations in infrastructure for mass adoption.
For many, city life has lost its appeal. Start-ups like HiHome are making home ownership more attainable for younger demographics. In the future, start-ups will make land ownership attainable or at minimum, create a sense of a subscription to rural life. Frankly, rural life has never been more appealing than from the comforts of a home like Node. The future is Culdesac for rural areas and Rent the Backyard to leverage land for financial security and community.
This pandemic has resulted in many rural residents attempting to order groceries and household items online for the first time. Scaling their interest will require innovations in internet infrastructure as the internet in rural areas is too slow to support mass adoption. Further, getting online in new areas is a complicated process typically requiring satellite connections. Startups like Necto (YC W18) were a bit too early in creating innovations in ISP space but provide a glimpse into a pathway for the future. Meanwhile, companies like Panetma in Panama show that innovation in this area is possible as they have managed to deliver advanced terrestrial (no satellites) wireless technology in mountainous regions via WISP.
City Slickers will want to take habits from urban life to rural areas with direct-to-consumer brands that serve their changing needs. However, rural communities have infrastructure challenges that create untapped opportunities for waste free consumer goods. Perhaps surprisingly, many rural communities operate without standardized sanitation & recycling services. This will give rise to growth for start-ups such as Esembly, reusable diapers and Bippy, bulk sustainable toilet paper and Zero, a no-waste grocery model. Sustainability is top of mind for younger demographics and Bippy even hints at how online shopping is more eco-friendly for rural consumers. As City Slickers will no longer be able to simply walk to shop small or to their neighborhood Trader Joe's, they will look to DTC brands for recurring purchases in niche areas such as Cabinet for medicine and Yumble for children's meals.
For some rural areas, access to packages is neither immediate nor seamless. Currently, there are antiquated and decentralized systems where even USPS carriers deliver in their personal vehicles and the nearest post office is sometimes miles away. For distribution of DTC purchases, in addition to innovating current distribution models, start-ups can utilize rural land capacity to create central hubs for distribution of goods. Penguin Pickup in Canada is an example of what we can expect to see as Amazon lockers will not suffice to support deliveries from other platforms.
There is a common misconception that the rural landscape is comprised of service workers and farmers. This is simply not true. Most rural families have at least one urban commuter that "goes into town". As a result of this pandemic, many commuters are likely experiencing the freedom of working from home for the first time and will seek to do so with greater frequency. Future of work tools will do well to simplify their UX and streamline clunky interfaces that will be supported by a growing broadband infrastructure. Simple, quick platforms will thrive.
While there will be significant growth in remote learning across the board, from a consumer lens I anticipate that the increased comfort with online platforms from remote work will spur individuals seeking digital tools to cultivate new skills and interest. Imagine Brit + Co style classes but for the "pioneer woman" learning about husbandry, bread baking, etc... After all, if the pandemic has taught us nothing, it's that people want to bake bread. Perhaps this is to harken back to a simpler, self-sustaining time. Undoubtedly, DIY platforms will continue to grow.