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...
Coleus 'Colorblaze Velveteen' (2015 University of Tennessee Field Trials)

November 28, 2015

2015 University of Tennessee Gardens (Knoxville and Jackson, Tenn.) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results (includes photo gallery) for University of Tennessee Gardens in Knoxville and Jackson, Tenn.

Read More
Feature Image Cob 700 (NewLux)

November 28, 2015

16 LED Lighting Solutions For Your Greenhouse

Narrowing in on the right LED lighting product often comes down to considering your specific crop needs and growing requirements to see what works best for your application. Here are 15 LED products to take into account when choosing the right fit for your greenhouse.

Read More
Begonia 'BabyWing Red' (2015 Louisiana State University Field Trials)

November 27, 2015

2015 Louisiana State University (Hammond, La.) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results (includes photo gallery) for Louisiana State University in Hammond, La.

Read More
Latest Stories

November 25, 2015

Everything You Need To Know About the New England GROWS…

Held In Boston December 2-4, New England GROWS includes a comprehensive conference program, a trade show, and with six special programs that teach new skills and provide opportunities to network with colleagues.

Read More
Giving Tuesday

November 24, 2015

Giving Tuesday On December 1 Is An Opportunity For The …

Organizations such as American Floral Endowment and others are encouraging industry members to participate in the generous spirit of the holiday season.

Read More
Random Acts Of Flowers

November 24, 2015

Random Acts Of Flowers Partners With FTD And Pro Flower…

The organization, which recycles and repurposes flowers with a volunteer team that delivers bouquets to health care facilities across the country, made its 100,000th delivery to a health care facility in Chicago.

Read More

November 23, 2015

Content Marketing: Buzzword Or Here To Stay?

A solid content marketing strategy provides valuable information that educates your consumers and builds trust.

Read More
Gotham Greens Chicago Rooftop Greenhouse

November 23, 2015

Gotham Greens Expands Into Chicago With New Rooftop Gre…

Touted as the world’s largest rooftop greenhouse, the company’s fourth facility is its first outside of New York and will produce nearly 10 million annual crops of local, premium-quality leafy greens and herbs.

Read More
Craig Regelbrugge Feature Image

November 23, 2015

Pollinator Initiatives Offer Opportunities For Growers,…

During Greenhouse Grower's 2015 Top 100 Growers Breakfast at Cultivate'15, Craig Regelbrugge, AmericanHort senior vice president for industry advocacy and research, discussed where things stand on the regulatory front with neonicotinoids, and the new Grow Wise, Bee Smart initiative.

Read More

November 20, 2015

Lessons Learned From The California Drought

For those of us who live in the areas of the country that experienced harsh winters and significant rain over the past three seasons, water has become a nuisance in some cases, rather than a blessing. I can’t count the number of times I have wished to be able to send the snow or the rain to the West Coast, tied up with a big red bow. But think about how we’d feel if we didn’t have the snow and the rain, and we were experiencing the same dry conditions that the residents of California, Oregon and Washington have. With fresh water supplies dwindling in regions of the world, and the resistance of residents in states like Michigan to share water from the Great Lakes, it’s likely that the next civil or world war could be fought over our most precious resource. California’s epic drought should cause everyone to look […]

Read More
Kate Santos Operations Director Dummen Orange

November 18, 2015

Kate Santos Presents New Opportunities For The Horticul…

Dr. Kate Santos is a scientist, an artist, an advocate, a traveler, a dreamer, a visionary and a go-getter. Well-known for her work managing Dümmen Orange as Operations Director, Santos has taken on a new role as co-founder of Luxflora, an organization for women in horticulture.

Read More
MPS Sustainable Quality Logo

November 17, 2015

International Seminar Finds Broad-Based Need For Indust…

Achieving durability and maximum transparency is the responsibility of the entire floriculture supply chain, was the main conclusion of the seminar “Shaping the Future of Floriculture,” which took place on Monday 9 November on the S.S. Rotterdam in The Netherlands. With just under 300 participants, the seminar, organized by Union Fleurs, VGB and MPS, received plenty of attention.

Read More
AmericanHort logo

November 17, 2015

Urgent: Your Voice Is Needed On Two Important H-2B Bill…

Two bills concerning the H-2B program were recently introduced in the House and Senate (H.R.3918 and S.2225). Both bills address key issues that employers continue to face with the H-2B program. Please urge your members of Congress to support these bills.

Read More

November 17, 2015

AmericanHort Moving Forward In Search For New CEO

The association is planning to enlist the help of a consulting firm that will solicit candidates best suited to lead the organization and serve the horticulture industry.

Read More
Costa Farms Owners

November 17, 2015

Costa Farms Named As International Grower Of The Year F…

The International Association of Horticultural Producers has announced its finalists for the International Grower of the Year award, and the list includes Costa Farms of Miami, Fla.

Read More
Bell Nursery reaches out by supporting projects that help children connect with plants

November 12, 2015

Bell Nursery Is An Advocate For Outreach In Its Communi…

In a heavily regulated society, growing relationships is just as important to our industry as growing beautiful flowers. In environmentally sensitive states like Maryland, outreach has become mandatory, says Bell Nursery’s Gary Mangum.

Read More
Greenhouse Grower State of the Industry

November 11, 2015

Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 State of The In…

The State of the Industry report, which uses input from both growers and suppliers, is designed to help you understand this year's crop and sales trends, as well as the issues that keep you up at night.

Read More

November 11, 2015

Drought Has Triggered A New Normal For The California L…

California is now entering its fifth year of the worst drought in 500 years, with no end in sight. Weather experts predict the current drought will continue into 2016, despite optimistic projections of increased rain patterns this winter caused by a strong El Niño ocean current. Residents have fully bought in to the emergency, and embraced Governor Jerry Brown’s April 1 mandate to reduce water usage by 25 percent. Even after an above-average hot summer, the state has exceeded its goal, with a per-month average of 28 percent water reduction. Some of the ways homeowners are being encouraged to reduce their outdoor water use are concerning, but the good news is, drought-tolerant landscaping and awareness of water-wise gardening is on the rise. Cash For Grass Rebates Have Landowners Trading In Their Lawns When Governor Brown’s water reduction mandate was announced in April, consumer reaction was reflected in the sales at […]

Read More
GreenhouseConnect 2015 Grower Supplier Meeting

November 10, 2015

Growers And Suppliers Exchange Solutions And Ideas At G…

Held this year in San Diego at the Rancho Bernardo Inn, GreenhouseConnect 2015 brought growers and suppliers together in a setting designed to amplify networking and collaboration.

Read More
Minnesota Landscape Arboretum – University of Minnesota

November 6, 2015

The Top 10 Most Beautiful College Arboretums

The best arboretums provide an ideal location for the study and contemplation of nature. Check out Best College Reviews’ rankings of the nation’s most beautiful arboretums.

Read More
Dave Armstrong Sakata Holding Corp.

November 5, 2015

Why Lobbying For Plant Breeding Is Important

Horticulture industry members who take the opportunity to advise Washington legislators on agricultural policy will find a surprisingly receptive audience.

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