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 27, 2016

Use Your Data To Make Smarter Marketing Decisions

Learn which marketing metrics are important to your business, measure successes, and learn where changes are needed.

Read More

April 26, 2016

“Bee-Friendly” Labels Matter To Plant Consumers, According To Study

Research at Michigan State University shows ornamental plant buyers understand and respond to bee-friendly production practices.

Read More
University of Florida Online Greenhouse Training Courses

April 25, 2016

University of Florida Offering Online Training Courses For Greenhouse Growers

There will be five courses offered, with the first starting on May 30. Courses are available in both English and Spanish and range from beginner level to advanced education.

Read More
Latest Stories

April 27, 2016

Use Your Data To Make Smarter Marketing Decisions

Learn which marketing metrics are important to your business, measure successes, and learn where changes are needed.

Read More

April 26, 2016

“Bee-Friendly” Labels Matter To Plant Consumers, Accord…

Research at Michigan State University shows ornamental plant buyers understand and respond to bee-friendly production practices.

Read More
University of Florida Online Greenhouse Training Courses

April 25, 2016

University of Florida Offering Online Training Courses …

There will be five courses offered, with the first starting on May 30. Courses are available in both English and Spanish and range from beginner level to advanced education.

Read More

April 24, 2016

9 Business Predictions Smart Brands Should Pay Attentio…

Andreas von der Heydt, Director of Kindle at Amazon, recently predicted what smart businesses will do in 2016 to strengthen their brands and promote their products.

Read More
Lin Schmale 1996

April 23, 2016

SAF’s Lin Schmale Offers Lessons From An Industry…

Schmale represented the floriculture industry on Capitol Hill for more than 20 years. The advocate has recently retired, and shares some valuable insights from her career.

Read More
Scott Schaefer Aris CEO

April 22, 2016

New Aris CEO Scott Schaefer Looks Forward To Dealing Wi…

Schaefer, who has been with Aris for 15 years, grew up working at his family’s greenhouse operation in Illinois.

Read More
Krause Berry Farms Farm To Table Dinner

April 20, 2016

What The Floriculture Industry Can Learn From Farm Mark…

Although we have a lot in common with the produce industry, there is much we can learn from one another.

Read More
Janeen Wright

April 18, 2016

Three Lessons From A Master Greenhouse Vegetable Grower

Three lessons from greenhouse vegetable grower Casey Houweling that you can apply to your business.

Read More
Costa Farms Container Ideas E-Book

April 12, 2016

Costa Farms Targets Consumers With New Container Garden…

The electronic book offers tips on container selection, design, and plant care for millennials looking to grow in small spaces.

Read More
An Edible Evening At Stephen F Austin

April 11, 2016

How The Greenhouse Industry Can Propagate Gardeners The…

Jared Barnes at Stephen F. Austin University says we are the experts at propagating plants. That’s knowledge we can put to good use to envision how to attract new gardeners and future horticulturists to the industry.

Read More
Sanitation programs are essential to preventing and removing food safety concerns.

April 7, 2016

USDA Launches GroupGAP Program For Fruit And Vegetable …

The new certification program is designed to help small and mid-size growers, including greenhouse vegetable producers, comply with new food safety regulations.

Read More
Tropical Fruit Tree Selection (Hopkins Tropical Fruit Nursery)

April 7, 2016

University Of Florida Research Shows Consumers Value Lo…

Compared to conventional plants, consumers reported a higher purchasing likelihood for certified organic or organically produced fruit plants.

Read More
Congressional Action Days 2016

April 5, 2016

Floral Industry Leaders Make Progress And (In Some Case…

Nearly 90 floral industry members gathered in the nation’s capital in March to meet with lawmakers in the annual event coordinated by the Society of American Florists.

Read More
Casey Houweling, owner of Houweling's Tomatoes

April 4, 2016

Houweling’s Tomatoes Grows Produce With Mastery Under G…

Houweling’s Tomatoes, winner of Greenhouse Grower’s Excellence in Vegetable Production award for 2015, exceeds industry standards for locally grown produce while pioneering innovative technologies that improve sustainability.

Read More
Student Video Horticulture Education

April 2, 2016

Use Videos Featuring Your Millennial Employees To Recru…

Your Millennial employees may be the best spokespeople you have for your business. Why not encourage them to make a 30-second video talking about why they got into horticulture?

Read More
Random Acts Of Flowers

March 31, 2016

The Floriculture Industry Needs A Unified Message To Pr…

Seeing the sneak preview of the new varieties that will be presented at California Spring Trials (CAST) spurs a visceral reaction in me. I’m giddy and excited about these gorgeous plants, having taken in some of their beauty and excellent performance already at Costa Farms’ Season Premier. I’m excited to travel to Spring Trials and that spring is coming, and I’m ready to dig in and get gardening. I’m guessing many of you feel the same way. And it’s likely that consumers do, too. Nearly a year ago, upon returning from California Spring Trials, I lamented the absence of ideas translated from CAST to retail. The beautiful displays, the breathtaking combinations, the clever marketing — somehow, all of that effort and enthusiasm focused on business-to-business promotion is not being funneled effectively to the consumer. As an industry, we are not good at working together to market our products in a clear, […]

Read More
Sakata Seed America President David Armstrong

March 30, 2016

Sakata Signs Agreement With Indonesian Government To Co…

This week, Sakata Seed Corp. announced internationally that it has signed an agreement with the Republic of Indonesia to cooperate in the further development and production of its line of SunPatiens interspecific hybrid impatiens, based on the principles of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Under an agreement based on the CBD, Sakata Seed has worked with the Indonesian government since the early 2000s to identify the origin of the native germplasm collected in Indonesia to develop SunPatiens, and the two parties have agreed on how the indigenous genetic resources will be used for the further development of SunPatiens. There are currently only a few cases in the world of such an agreement, based on the CBD in the category of horticultural plants, made between a resource-rich country and a commercial seed company. Greenhouse Grower contacted Sakata Seed CEO David Armstrong to provide context about this agreement, what it means […]

Read More
One symptom of Botrytis blight is gray, fuzzy sporulation on foliage and flowers, similar to that shown on the flower of this hibiscus

March 25, 2016

American Floral Endowment Will Fund Research Projects A…

AFE’s primary research funding priorities cover everything from pest control to production management. Funding applications are due June 1.

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