It's no surprise they want to attract more rural customers. "There are 37 million working-age adults in the rural US who account for close to 15 percent of the adult population, but annual revenues of rural businesses represent only 3.7 percent of total gross revenues in the US economy," Ina Steiner reports for eCommerce Bytes, an e-commerce news publication.
eBay's press shop recently republished an op-ed written for The Hill in which an eBay seller discusses what he and other rural residents need to succeed. "We don't need saving. We're not asking for, and we wouldn't accept, a handout," Bill Ingersoll writes. "We're entrepreneurial. All we want is the chance to compete in the modern, global economy."
Ingersoll, who testified before the House Committee on Small Business last week on this topic, writes that rural residents need three things: equal service from the U.S. Postal Service, good broadband access, and careful government attention to global trade policies.
Some proposals to save the foundering USPS would cut off service or dramatically raise prices for rural areas. That would be a "disaster" for Ingersoll's eBay business since 80 percent of his sales ship through the post office. Better broadband access is a no-brainer: "If I can’t quickly post detailed photos and descriptions of the parts I’m selling, I’m not going to find a buyer. If I can’t process a customer’s order because of slow internet, I’m going to lose a sale."
Ingersoll also cautions lawmakers to consider the impact of international trade policies on small businesses such as his, since many of his sales come from foreign countries. "We need trade policies that make it simpler to send low-value shipments overseas," Ingersoll writes. "Otherwise, only big companies will be able to take advantage of the global economy, and companies like mine will be left behind. Red tape in international trade is a guaranteed way to put rural America at a competitive disadvantage."
Amazon made similar recommendations to improve the economic outlook in rural America, including expanding education and training programs, helping rural areas attract tech talent, and increasing affordable, high-speed broadband and wireless access. Amazon commissioned the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to study the topic. "According to the research, southern states are among the ones that would benefit the most from increased adoption of online tools and digital services, with rural businesses in West Virginia (+57.6 percent), Alabama (+32.9 percent), Mississippi (+32.8 percent), and Georgia (+31.5 percent) experiencing some of the largest revenue growths over the next three years," Steiner reports. "Texas, Ohio, and Mississippi would gain the highest number of new jobs, with the Lone Star state adding an average of 23,400 new jobs per year over the next three years."
The study found that increasing adoption of online tools and digital services could add more than 360,000 jobs in the next three years and grow the annual revenue of rural small businesses by 21 percent in the same time frame. Adopting such tools would have the biggest impact on small rural businesses with annual revenue of under $100,000, Steiner reports.