Should You Be Selling Plants And Products Online?

Suzanne McKee
Suzanne McKee

At the heart of every business lie transactions. How do you purchase the supplies you need? How do you sell your final product? None of us wants to simplify our work this much but if you can’t get what you need to operate economically and you can’t sell your goods or services competitively, then the other things you do quickly become irrelevant.

The commerce models where this buying and selling happen have been transforming and evolving throughout time, oftentimes hand in hand with new advances in technology and sometimes driven by other factors. For the green industry, let’s consider brick and mortar, eCommerce and direct selling our key ways of exchanging our goods throughout the supply chain.

  • Brick and Mortar: Companies that have a physical presence and offer face-to-face customer experiences.
  • eCommerce: Trading in products or services conducted via the Internet.
  • Direct Selling: The marketing and selling of products directly to consumers away from a fixed retail location. For instance, regional sales reps.

There is a valuable place for each of these methods in every industry, but trends are leaning toward the biggest growth opportunities being in eCommerce transactions. According to Forrester, B2B eCommerce sales were on track to achieve $559 billion in sales in the U.S. by the end of 2013 (they have not reported yet if these estimates were reached). That is more than twice the size of current online consumer sales (B2C eCommerce). The same report found that more than one quarter of respondents were getting 50 percent of their revenue from an online channel.

Why Do People Buy Online?

According to a report released by comScore, Inc. (UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper: A Customer Experience Study), consumers want more choices, more control, convenient returns and the best deals when they shop online. Interestingly though, lowest prices were not always the main motivation for online shopping. It is more a lifestyle, or when done for your work, a way of doing business that appeals to a lot of people in the digital age.

In the green industry, we largely operate under a broker/wholesale model of doing business throughout the supply chain starting with the breeder/producers and culminating at the retail level. To date, our industry has lagged behind others in the eCommerce market at every step of distribution. Regardless of where you fall within the supply chain — selling to other business or to the end consumer — eCommerce is growing at such a pace that you can’t ignore it. If your customers aren’t already asking for it, it is safe to say that as the next generation moves in to decision making roles, they will demand it.

What To Consider When Thinking About eCommerce

  • Who is your target market? Do they already do quite a bit of business online? Do they do most of their work at their desks or do they require mobile solutions?
  • Can your business operate online without losing your personal touch, relationships with your customer and customer loyalty?
  • Are you willing to make the required investments in both personnel and technology required to have a successful online eCommerce site?

Pros And Cons Of Selling Via eCommerce (From A Business Perspective)

Overhead is not exponential with salesInitial investment can be very high
Growth opportunity through online channels are proving to be bigger than traditional onesChannel conflict (between direct sales and online channels) could hinder growth if not handled well
Can oftentimes help to streamline existing logistical issuesSophisticated systems required to handle complexities of working with live goods

How Consumers Could Benefit From Your eCommerce Platform

  • More choice and flexibility in how they purchase from you
  • Opportunity to review your products more leisurely and on their own schedules, giving them the information to make better informed decisions
  • Compare pricing more easily giving them confidence in their purchases

What Are Other Industries Working On?

A closely related industry (in terms of the supply chain set up and working with live goods) that we can learn from is the food and beverage industry. Grocery chains are making big strides in harnessing mobile technology to promote products, increasing product awareness and effectively using that data to better manage ordering and inventory levels at the manufacturer and retail levels.

Take, for instance, MyWebGrocer (a service I have not yet used, nor am I endorsing), which helps retailers provide eCommerce platforms to their customers. ECommerce grocery shopping has grown up to a service where you can shop from anywhere, rely on a trained personal shopper to select your products and either pick up your order or have it delivered right to your door.

To me, this sounds like an amazing customer experience, one that might even connect me more to my current grocer than I am now. Take it beyond the customer experience, though, and think of the data grocery stores now have on this segment of their customers. Personalized marketing and a completely new level of engagement with their customers just became possible.

Let’s look back at the world of flowers and why we should care what grocery chains are doing.
Imagine an eCommerce site that allows consumers to order the plants they need directly from their iPads as they walk around their garden, visualizing exactly what they want. The new generation of consumers, contemplating their garden space, could actually create a virtual garden with their iPads using the inventory of the retailer, create an order, get confirmation, pick it up or have it delivered.

From a business perspective, this offers a better way to connect with the new generation of shoppers who are very connected to mobile technologies in a way that is more effective than selling in brick-and-mortar stores. As a retailer, you also just received some very valuable data that you can use to enhance your marketing.

For Instance:

  • Targeted content marketing on the plants they purchased
  • Personalized offers that bring them back for more
  • Timely tips for summer care – fertilizers, chemicals, mulch etc.
  • Promotions for second planting for seasonal gardens – switch to fall and winter color – spring flowering bulbs
  • Contest for best garden – linking their customers to each other

This same model holds true for the B2B aspects of our supply chain. Professional greenhouse growers can better connect with their retail customers with online ordering and resources that share data on trends, allowing for more timely promotions and inventory specials. Breeder/producers can connect in real time with their customers and even extend the reach of their marketing to the retailers and consumers in a more effective manner. Overall, it makes our industry more streamlined and more connected to our end consumer.

ECommerce is more than just online ordering. It is a way to better understand, connect and engage with our customers, on their terms, in the digital age. It can’t (and won’t) replace the value of personal relationships in both business and consumer transactions, but if done correctly, it will build on those to make the customer experience so much better.

The technology is there, the innovation is there and valuable lessons are at our fingertips if we look at and learn from other industries and their eCommerce practices.


Leave a Reply

More From Business Management...

April 17, 2015

Sakata Seed Uses California Spring Trials Display Plants To Give Back

Sakata Seed America is putting its post-CAST (California Spring Trials) plants and flowers to good use to support events in local California communities of Salinas and Morgan Hill. The plants, along with donations through Sakata's Charitable Giving Program, will support three fun-filled community events that promote healthy lifestyles and support the agricultural industry.

Read More
Hakonochloa macra Aureola v

April 17, 2015

Ornamental Grasses — A Few Thoughts

Grasses have been embraced by growers, landscape architects and retailers, and are an important component in wholesale and resale sales. Allan Armitage shares some popular grasses, one to avoid and a few to use with caution.

Read More

April 17, 2015

Allan Armitage’s Favorite Plants From Proven Winners, Syngenta And Danziger

Between visiting California Spring Trial giants like Proven Winners, Syngenta and Danziger, Allan Armitage saw a lot of great plants in one day. Despite the size of the challenge, Dr. Armitage finds a few favorites he thinks you should try.

Read More
Latest Stories

April 15, 2015

Redesigned SunPatiens Website Offers New Tools For Saka…

Sakata Seed America's new and improved SunPatiens website launched March 1, 2015 and provides growing information, marketing support, product location and many more tools to encourage consumer success with SunPatiens.

Read More

April 15, 2015

Online Registration For FarWest 2015 Open, Discount Bef…

Online registration is now open for FarWest 2015, a green industry educational conference and tradeshow, which will take place August 27 to 29 in Portland, Ore. The show promises a full menu of classes, seminars and off-site events, plus a special benefit added this year for attendees.

Read More
Syngenta logo

April 15, 2015

Syngenta Names Chris Freeman Senior Key Account Manager…

Chris Freeman is the new senior key account manager for Syngenta Flowers, Home & Garden's Commercial Sales business in the Americas, effective March 2015. Freeman, who joined Syngenta in 2006, carries more than 25 years of experience in the agriculture and floriculture business.

Read More
Janeen Wright

April 13, 2015

Different Routes Lead To New Growth In Your Greenhouse

The path you take to success in your greenhouse may not be the well-traveled one, but the end result can still be the same — growth for you and your greenhouse business.

Read More
Restricting foliar pesticide applications on blooming plants to early morning or as dusk approaches in the evening reduces direct exposure to bees.

April 10, 2015

10 Steps For Protecting Crops And Bees

Bees stay safe and high quality crops thrive when you use bee-friendly practices designed to help both succeed. Griffin Greenhouse Supply Pro (GGSPro) has been actively discussing bee-friendly pesticide use for years. Based on its current understanding of the science and social factors at play, GGSPro currently recommends these 10 bee-friendly practices.

Read More
Lake Buchanan_LCRA

April 10, 2015

USDA Designates Areas Of West And Southwest As Drought …

The ongoing drought has resulted in disaster area designations in counties across nine Western and Southwestern states, including Texas, where some reservoirs are at or near historically low levels.

Read More

April 9, 2015

Altman Plants’ Online Cactus Shop Shows Strong Sa…

Altman Plants recently opened its new Cactus Shop, an online retail store that sells a variety of cactus and succulents. The store is a take-off of Altman’s original wholesale business, as the company started as a mail order catalog.

Read More

April 8, 2015

Dümmen Group Welcomes Jim Devereux And Andrew Konicki T…

Dümmen group recently announced the addition of Jim Devereux and Andrew Konicki to its team. They are the newest members of the Key Account and Broker Support team for Dümmen, and will be responsible for building, developing and maintaining current broker and grower customer relationships.

Read More
Todd Woodfield

April 8, 2015

Sustainable Horticulture Pays Off

Practicing holistic horticulture has saved money and improved plant quality for Abby Farms. Its manager shares where the operation has seen differences from conventional production.

Read More

April 8, 2015

California Institutes First Ever Statewide Mandatory Wa…

California Gov. Jerry Brown announced April 1 that, for the first time in state history, action will be taken to implement mandatory water restrictions, with the ultimate goal of reducing water usage by 25 percent. As Californians are pushed to conserve more, growers will need to think about how demand for products will be affected.

Read More
HRI logo

April 8, 2015

Horticultural Research Institute Accepting Scholarship …

The Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) is offering seven scholarships for the 2015-2016 school year, totaling $20,000. Applications will be accepted through May 31.

Read More

April 8, 2015

AmericanHort And State Associations Advocate For Workfo…

AmericanHort, along with roughly two dozen other state association partners, joined nearly 140 organizations in a letter to the House of Representatives responding to the Legal Workforce Act (H.R.1147), which is being voted on without provisions that would ensure legal workforce options for agricultural and seasonal employers. H.R.1147 would mandate that all U.S. employers use the federal E-Verify program.

Read More

April 1, 2015

Philadelphia Flower Show Draws More Than 250,000 Attend…

With more than 250,000 consumers attending the prestigious Philadelphia Flower Show in March each year, it's a great opportunity to get flowers and gardening products into the public eye. This year's show displays took on family favorites at the movies, with a focus on Disney and Pixar films. Check out some of the highlights in our slideshow.

Read More
protecting bees and pollinators video

March 31, 2015

New Video On Protecting Bees And Pollinators Educates H…

A new educational video that provides information on the horticultural industry’s essential role in bee and pollinator stewardship is one result of industry collaboration by the Horticultural Research Institute, AmericanHort, Society of American Florists and the American Floral Endowment. “Protecting Bees & Pollinators: What Horticulture Needs to Know,” narrates the current state of bee and pollinator health, provides information on factors that impact pollinators and the environment and underscores the beneficial role horticulture plays in providing healthy pollinator ecosystems.

Read More

March 31, 2015

DNA Green Group Will Acquire Rijnplant

DNA Green Group and Riknplant have finalized DNA Green Group's acquisition of Rijnplant, meaning that the breeding and propagation activities in pot and cut anthurium, bougainvillea and heliconia will transfer to DNA Green Group.

Read More
Rose rosette on Knockout rose, April 2012. Photo credit: Alan Windham, University of Tennessee

March 25, 2015

$58 Million In APHIS Farm Bill Funding Will Support Hor…

Nearly $58 million as been allocated by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to support the industry's Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program, under Farm Bill Section 10007. The program will support mitigation efforts for specialty crops, including providing research and other funding to address plant pest and disease priorities for the specialty crop industry, including floriculture and nursery crops.

Read More
AFE scholarship_Ryan Dickson

March 25, 2015

AFE Educational Grant And Scholarship Application Deadl…

Apply now for American Floral Endowment (AFE) scholarships or educational grants. Applications can be found online. For educational grants for 2015-2016, applications must be submitted no later than June 1. Scholarship applications are due May 1. AFE will award $40,000 in scholarships for 2015.

Read More

March 25, 2015

NASS Reports U.S. Honey Production Was Up By 19 Percent…

Honey production in 2014 from producers with five or more colonies totaled 178 million pounds, up 19 percent from 2013, according to a March 20 report from the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

Read More