Entrepreneurial responses to COVID-19 farmers’ market closures – the experiences of rural micro vendors using social media

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This research explored the barriers and enablers of social media usage by farmers market vendors in response to COVID-19 closures. Farmers markets present a low cost, low-risk retail outlet and economic safety net for rural micro-business vendors who may be too small to sell elsewhere. These markets also act as entrepreneurial incubators allowing vendors to trial new products, gain feedback directly from customers and to develop their marketing, pricing, and general business acumen. Micro-businesses such as farmers market vendors can contribute positively to rural and regional development via impact on job creation, growth, and regional well-being. Consequently, the farmers market closures during the COVID-19 pandemic presented a significant challenge to vendors who were unable to use this traditional distribution channel to generate income and develop their businesses. Using the UTAUT as a guiding framework, semi-structured interviews with 11 businesses that typically sold through farmers markets were conducted to examine the qualitative experience of these vendors in moving their businesses online. The findings suggest that performance expectations of social media, as a vehicle to engage with customers, receive feedback, reinforce brand, and realise sales, generally exceeded participants expectations. Social influence from family and friends was a strong factor in facilitating social media adoption and use among rural micro-business market vendors. However, the perceived effort and time required to learn how to use social media effectively and to take advantage of its broader functionality was a barrier to fuller engagement with the technology. Practical implications from the research suggest that facilitating conditions in the form of educational training and government financial support could help vendors adopt and use technology more strategically. Engagement with technology may enable rural micro-businesses such as farmers market vendors overcome some of the unique challenges faced by entrepreneurs in a rural location including smaller consumer market and limited access to supportive infrastructure.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Entrepreneurship and Small Business
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023


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