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)

ProsCons
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.

Topics:

Leave a Reply

More From Business Management...
Employees separate the plants by stem count, bud development and height. “This process allows us to respond more quickly to specific requests from customers,” Van Wingerden says

September 22, 2016

AmericanHort Hosting Webinar On Overtime Rule Compliance

The webinar takes place on Thursday, Sept. 29. AmericanHort is also throwing its support behind the Overtime Reform and Enhancement Act.

Read More
customer-base

September 21, 2016

6 Creative Ways To Expand Your Business

Marketing experts offer tips to help you catch the attention of new customers and grow your business.

Read More
OSU ATI Greenhouse

September 21, 2016

Your Support Is Essential For Current And Future Students

September is back to school time, and that means renewed opportunity to support the young people who are electing to pursue careers in horticulture. I continue to hear from growers of all sizes, from all over the country, that there just are not enough qualified graduates of two- or four-year horticulture programs. We also need to be active in promoting careers in horticulture to those who are not aware of the opportunities available. There have been some great success stories in this area recently. At University of Florida (UF) last fall, Anna Ball and Dr. Marvin Miller of Ball Horticultural Co. joined UF’s Dr. David Clark in an introductory environmental horticulture couse that’s open to any major. After the class, the line of students waiting to talk with Ball, Miller, and Clark was out the door. It is so important, Ball says, for each of us, individually and collectively to […]

Read More
Latest Stories
Employees separate the plants by stem count, bud development and height. “This process allows us to respond more quickly to specific requests from customers,” Van Wingerden says

September 22, 2016

AmericanHort Hosting Webinar On Overtime Rule Complianc…

The webinar takes place on Thursday, Sept. 29. AmericanHort is also throwing its support behind the Overtime Reform and Enhancement Act.

Read More
customer-base

September 21, 2016

6 Creative Ways To Expand Your Business

Marketing experts offer tips to help you catch the attention of new customers and grow your business.

Read More
OSU ATI Greenhouse

September 21, 2016

Your Support Is Essential For Current And Future Studen…

September is back to school time, and that means renewed opportunity to support the young people who are electing to pursue careers in horticulture. I continue to hear from growers of all sizes, from all over the country, that there just are not enough qualified graduates of two- or four-year horticulture programs. We also need to be active in promoting careers in horticulture to those who are not aware of the opportunities available. There have been some great success stories in this area recently. At University of Florida (UF) last fall, Anna Ball and Dr. Marvin Miller of Ball Horticultural Co. joined UF’s Dr. David Clark in an introductory environmental horticulture couse that’s open to any major. After the class, the line of students waiting to talk with Ball, Miller, and Clark was out the door. It is so important, Ball says, for each of us, individually and collectively to […]

Read More
Pansy ‘Cool Wave Blue Skies’ (Wave)

September 20, 2016

PanAmerican Seed Settles Alleged Trade Sanction Violati…

PanAmerican Seed, a division of Ball Horticultural Co., has been charged with violating trade sanctions to Iran over a number of years. According to a release from the U.S. Treasury department, PanAmerican Seed made 48 indirect sales of seeds to two Iranian distributors. The company shipped the seed to consignees based in countries in Europe and the Middle East. PanAmerican Seed’s customers then arranged for the re-exportation of the seeds to Iran. The release states that the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) determined PanAmerican Seed did not voluntarily self-disclose the alleged violations to OFAC, constituting an egregious case. “We believe that the settlement was extreme; however the alternative was to litigate with the U.S. government, which would take months, if not years,” says Todd Billings, Chief Financial Officer for Ball Horticultural Co. When asked what Ball Horticultural Co. has done to ensure that violations to trade sanctions do not […]

Read More
young-plants

September 20, 2016

The Top Young Plant Growers, And Four Critical Challeng…

In Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Top Young Plant Growers Survey, growers discuss the latest challenges and opportunities in fulfillment, shipping, labor, and crop protection.

Read More
Dual Income No Kids (DINK) Young Couple

September 16, 2016

What You Need To Know About DINKs

DINKs (Dual Income, No Kids) are quickly becoming one of the fastest-growing demographics that marketers are targeting.

Read More
MANTS

September 15, 2016

Registration Is Now Open For MANTS 2017 In Baltimore

The 2017 Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show takes place Jan. 11-13 in Baltimore, MD, and will feature more than 1,000 exhibitors from the green industry.

Read More
farwest-2016-photobooth

September 14, 2016

Farwest 2016 Marked By Expert Discussions On Green Indu…

Attendance at the 2016 Farwest Show in Portland was up 6% from last year, as visitors sought to learn more about emergent market opportunities.

Read More
Workers at Golden State Bulb Growers clean Calla tubers and select the best quality bulbs, placing them on conveyors to be graded, counted and sorted in the new system

September 13, 2016

Newly Signed California Law Expands Overtime To Farmwor…

The new law, which will be phased in beginning in 2019, is the first of its kind in the nation to end the 80-year-old practice of applying separate labor rules to agricultural laborers.

Read More
RISE New Governing Board 2016

September 11, 2016

RISE Appoints New Leadership, Hands Out Awards During 2…

“Our members’ enthusiasm is high, and we had great engagement as we work together to set objectives for 2017 and beyond,” said Aaron Hobbs, RISE President. “Our work ensures a vibrant future for our industry, so we can continue to deliver cutting-edge solutions to solve people’s pest and plant health problems.”

Read More
Workers at The Farm at Green Village

September 10, 2016

Now Is The Best Time To Demand Federal H-2B Program Sup…

Congress is expected to pass a continuing resolution spending bill in the near future, and whether or not that measure includes an H-2B returning worker exemption could impact your labor supply for 2017.

Read More
Cavicchio Greenhouses

September 6, 2016

Cavicchio Greenhouses Wins Inaugural Sustainability Awa…

The Sudbury, MA, growing operation sustains more than 250 acres of annuals, perennials, and nursery stock, with a number of practices to mitigate its impact on the environment.

Read More
Charlie Hall Feature Image

September 6, 2016

10 Insights From Charlie Hall’s Green Industry Economic…

With the uncertain current economic climate, Texas A&M economist Charlie Hall says now may be the perfect time to invest — as long as you do it smartly.

Read More
Increased customer demand led Good Harvest Farms to add hydroponic lettuce in 2000

September 3, 2016

Are You A Leafy Greens Grower? If So, Take This Survey!

A team of researchers from several universities is looking for feedback from leafy greens and herb growers.

Read More
Michigan State University Employee Handbook

September 2, 2016

Why You Might Need An Employee Handbook For Your Greenh…

Employee handbooks are not just for big greenhouse operations that employ large numbers of workers. According to a Michigan State University expert, they are an important human resources management tool that all growers should have.

Read More
Griffin Onliant Logo

August 30, 2016

Griffin Launches New Digital Greenhouse Ordering System

Onliant, which replaces Griffin’s previous e-commerce sites, provides growers and retailers with a new platform to source plants, hard goods, equipment, and retail inputs.

Read More
America In Bloom Project

August 29, 2016

Your Chance To Help America In Bloom As It Celebrates I…

America In Bloom is launching a fundraising campaign to help the group continue its mission of creating beautiful and vibrant communities across the country.

Read More
North Creek Nurseries Feature Image

August 29, 2016

North Creek Nurseries Unites Horticulture With Sustaina…

The team at North Creek Nurseries, Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Operation Of The Year, leads the way in implementing ecologically responsible practices that will sustain the future of growing.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]