Are eCommerce And Non-Traditional Retail Outlets Right For Your Operation? [Opinion]

lauranewcolumnI don’t like to shop. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and less patient, or maybe it’s a function of busy-ness, as a working mom of two active, young kids — or both. Either way, it’s increasingly causing me to seek out and buy products online, especially during the holidays.

And while I am a person who values the buy-local movement and collects antiques and unique products, pretty much any retail store in December horrifies me. So I’ve given in to the convenience and allure of online shopping and I’ll admit that my family easily buys 80 percent of our holiday gifts online.

At Etsy.com, I can find many unique, artisan products in one spot that I might never find elsewhere. With a Prime subscription at Amazon.com, we get free shipping. It’s way easier and less frustrating than lining up a babysitter so I can fight the crowds and traffic, and spend the time searching for gifts in person. Instead, I can click “search” and “purchase” from the comfort of my home or on my lunch break at the office or from my smartphone while I’m just about anywhere.

That convenience is a growing revolution that the younger generations of consumers are driving, and not only during the holidays. They are highly educated and want to know what they’re buying, so they use the internet to research products before they head to the store. And they might not even get there, considering in-store product availability is a fraction of what they can order online — and they can save time by having it shipped to their doors.

This applies directly to plants, too. Susie Raker of C. Raker & Sons in Litchfield, Mich., experimented with selling poinsettias and herb collections at a consumer site in late 2013, at premium prices. She got them, with 50 percent margins. When I said I was surprised consumers would buy poinsettias online, because they seem to be everywhere during the holiday season, her reply explained it all:

“They don’t have leave their house to get them.”

BigBadFlower.com is banking on this with its relaunch this year (see our cover story). TheSill.com is another venture that not only sells plants online, it also offers design and maintenance services, and delivery to its local customers in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn. It just launched its #pimpmypot service: “We pick up. We re-plant. We deliver.” Consumers can sign up for this service for $25 to $65, depending on the size of the pot, delivery included.

Convenience, availability, time savings and customization — that’s what consumers want and the key to successful sales, both offline and online. Not every grower will be able to fulfill this sales venue, nor should they. The point is, there are other opportunities available to growers. You don’t have to live with the status quo to make your profits. With changing consumer needs, it’s time to look for new ways to sell and deliver plants.

Take a look at your own capabilities. Evaluate your production and shipping lines. Have your marketing department run some demographics. Look for opportunities in your own community. How can you branch out to new markets, whether it be online sales, selling plants to farm markets or another venture? How can you make your products more relevant to next generation consumers and grow your profits?

“People ask me how I can do this and I tell them, ‘Part of doing business is taking risks,’” Raker says. “Without risk, there is no reward.”

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