For most of the last 20 years the Internet was hailed as a tool that would revolutionise business. For small regional businesses the Internet was expected to help overcome barriers of geography and scale. However, reality has fallen well short of expectations. This study of small regional winery Internet use was undertaken in response to the apparent inability of small wineries to harness the business capability of the Internet. Working with small wineries in New Zealand as a model for the regional, small-scale lifestyle business expected to benefit from use of the Internet, the study investigated why such businesses were not interested in the Internet. Small wineries seemed content with a brochure type web page when this approach was known to attract few sales and do very little to support the business.
The study had three aims. Firstly, it aimed to assess the extent of Internet use among small New Zealand wineries. Secondly, the study investigated the business circumstances and needs in this sector. This understanding was captured in a model developed from the field data. Similar models reported in the literature are investigated and compared with the model developed from the field data. Finally, guided by the model, the study proposed a plan to develop and provide Internet services better suited to the needs of the wineries.
The purpose of this study was therefore to help small lifestyle businesses make better use of the Internet. The study would also provide Internet developers and service providers with in-depth insights into the requirements of small lifestyle businesses in order to better design Internet services to meet their needs.
The study addressed a complex research problem involving many interrelationships. An action learning-oriented research approach was taken to understand the small wineries’ concepts of reality and to find out what small wineries did (rather than what they said they did). The mixed method research design included a longitudinal survey of web sites, a user evaluation exercise, a case study investigation and a single case study investigation to explore the research problem from several different perspectives. The particular strength of this approach is to use a set of data gathering techniques to give the research problem a richer context. The different types of data gathered give a wider coverage of the research problem and allow the researcher to benefit from complementary knowledge gained.
This study concluded that the characteristics of small lifestyle businesses and a lack of Information Technology skills were the major reasons why the Internet was not used more. The fact that small regional wineries were not seeking rapid growth of sales and were not well equipped or willing to deal with international customers (all potential advantages of the Internet) were also contributing factors. An additional problem was that the Internet developers had taken the approach of developing the technology and then presenting it to the users to apply it in whatever way they saw fit. This might work for medium to large organisations with the skills and knowledge necessary to apply the technology. It did not work well for small wineries because they lacked understanding of the technology and what it could do for them. Consequently, the Internet services currently available for small regional wineries were not developed well enough to meet their needs as small businesses, and the small businesses were unable to develop them because of their lack of skill. The developers were unaware that a different approach was needed when dealing with small lifestyle businesses.
The findings of this study suggested that the Internet needs of lifestyle regional businesses would be better met by services that allowed the business to outsource more of the maintenance, marketing and interactivity aspects of the Internet. The study found that small wineries needed information about using the Internet that they were unable to research for themselves, such as the best approach to e-newsletters for their particular type of customer.
One implication of the findings from this study is that Internet developers need to work more closely with small regional life-style business to better meet their needs. This study provides a springboard from which to develop better-suited Internet services for small businesses through a better understanding of small business Internet needs and a better understanding of the relationship between the Internet developer and the client. As a result, this study foreshadows a necessary change in the approach of small business Internet developers, from developing the technology and leaving the application up to the lifestyle business user, to one of working with the small lifestyle business user to develop and manage Internet technology applications.