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Embracing ecommerce helped ANM Group overcome the challenges of COVID-19

ANM Group auction

Embracing ecommerce helped ANM meet the challenges of COVID-19

Grant Rogerson, Chief Executive of ANM Group, explains how its decision to embrace ecommerce allowed one of Scotland’s largest agricultural firms to take its expertise in the live auction ring and apply it online. This helped the company reach customers adversely affected by COVID-19.

Turning to ecommerce allowed us to overcome the challenge of social distancing and turn it into an opportunity to meet the needs of our customers.

Grant Rogerson, Chief Executive of ANM Group

Grant Rogerson CEO ANM Group

4 tips on meeting the challenges of COVID-19

1. Focus on what's possible

ANM Group is one of the largest and most progressive co-operative farming, food and finance businesses in Scotland and we're ranked in the top 25 of UK cooperatives. Headquartered on the outskirts of Inverurie in Aberdeenshire, we have a history spanning more than 140 years at the centre of the agricultural industry in Scotland and have diversified the business into a number of new areas over the last 30 years. 

Like most companies across Scotland, we recognised very quickly that the restrictions put in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic would pose a massive threat to our operations and therefore demanded an immediate and integrated response from our Board and management team.

We've always sought be an innovator in all of the diverse businesses we operate, and a strategic decision was made at the outset of the pandemic to maintain our commitment to continual innovation – to focus on what's possible, rather than what is impossible.

2. Meet the needs of your customers

Each division of the business faced very different challenges. Our events and catering operations faced an immediate and complete shutdown, but other key aspects of our activities were able to navigate the crisis by focusing on government public health advice, and being flexible in how we deliver our services. 

Perhaps the best example of this was our decision to introduce new ecommerce technology that would allow us to take our livestock auctions online. The guidance from the government was that our livestock auctions had to continue to ensure that quality Scottish produce remained available at a time when supply chains were under real pressure.

What made this difficult however was that attendance at our auctions was severely restricted for buyers and sellers as a result of social distancing measures and public health measures. 

Turning to ecommerce allowed us to overcome the challenge of social distancing and turn it into an opportunity to meet the needs of our customers at a time when attending our auctions in person was difficult or impossible for many.

The system we put in place made it possible for sellers of livestock to view the entire auction from their home base, or their phone. That's been a great reassurance to many of our local sellers as they try to adapt to a very different market day experience.

3. Deliver the best possible customer experience

The knowledge and technology needed to enable our online sales is something we'd been developing and perfecting for a number of years, working in partnership with the University of Aberdeen and Scottish Enterprise.

We'd been planning to introduce online bidding to our livestock market for some time, but the restrictions put in place as a result of COVID-19 definitely acted as a stimulus that accelerated our ambitions. 

The key to our success online is maintaining a focus on the customer experience and doing what’s necessary to deliver the best possible experience in the circumstances. We’ve tried to really understand the buying patterns that are typical of our industry, and we’ve done as much as we can to replicate these online.

An example of this is our strategic partnership with Sellmylivestock.co.uk - an online portal for private direct sales. It’s a partnership that allows ANM Group to provide expertise and assurance to those customers who, for whatever reason, don’t want to sell through the auction ring.

Having a strong presence on a 3rd party emarketplace, alongside our own ecommerce platform, gives even greater choice to our customers. I think it demonstrates that an effective ecommerce strategy can cover more than one online channel. Essentially, it’s like giving our customers both a Gumtree and an eBay option. 

4. Think about innovation

The response to our new online offerings has been excellent. At a recent online sale there were over 500 buyers registered to take part.

We’ve also seen as many as 400 people viewing our online livestock sales at any one time. I’m confident that the online system that we've pioneered will continue to be a crucial part of our operations.

This has been a difficult period for our company, there’s no doubt. We've faced restrictions in many areas of our business, but with careful planning and innovation we've kept the lights on during one of the most difficult periods we’ve ever faced.

The exponential growth in online participation in livestock sales has been a critical part of our COVID-19 response. Ecommerce has allowed us to maintain our livestock auction diary throughout the coronavirus restrictions, provided continuity in vital supply chains and excellent Scottish farm produce to tables across the country in difficult circumstances. 

We still believe that the best place to sell is in the live auction ring, but for those who can’t, or won’t, we now have an offer for them that gives them access to quality auctioneer advice where there was none before.

Crucially, as a co-operative business, we've been able to continue to support and service our community at a time when they most needed us.

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