How much information should a tag provide? Who is responsible for providing it? Should tags and labels be generic and “no-brainer” for consumers, or should they offer as much information as possible? With the new technology available, have tags and labels outlasted their usefulness?
These were the questions raised this past July during the Town Hall Meeting at Cultivate’14 in Columbus, Ohio. During the meeting, which was titled “Breaking The Frenemy Impasse,” a panel of young professionals in the industry discussed the disconnects in communication along the supply chain, and how to overcome them. The debate kicked off with the question, “What about those damned tags?”
So, what information should be on those tags, anyway? The answer really depends on the audience the grower or retailer is trying to attract, says Bob Lovejoy, president of HIP Labels.
If a product is geared toward children, then you don’t need a complicated tag. However, a customer more experienced with gardening might desire something more descriptive and informative. To complicate it further, what if your audience is multilingual?
“It’s a real challenge,” Lovejoy says. “You only have so much real estate.”
Gerry Giorgio, creative director for MasterTag, says tags need to be written in layman’s terms. Information should be easy to understand, and icons should have pointer words to support them.
“Most shoppers are not that well-versed in gardening,” he says. “They are plant and flower appreciators and decorators, not even gardeners.”
However, tags still need to include as much information as possible to educate the consumer.
“Consumers have consistently said they need more information at the point of sale,” Giorgio says. “This will require a larger tag. This does add cost, but shoppers put a tremendous amount of value on information at the point of sale.”
Lovejoy says he believes that technology like augmented reality and QR codes is the answer, as it provides a way to direct the customer to better information. But the technology is still new, and industry members haven’t yet determined the best way to use it to their advantage.
However, a panelist in the Town Hall meeting said QR codes haven’t been effective thus far, and questioned whether augmented reality technology work would be any different.
There is a real cost to bringing more information to customers, whether it be through purchasing region-specific custom tags, printing on demand or programming detailed product information that can be accessed by the customer electronically.
“The industry wants to help retailers sell more product,” Lovejoy says. “We would be happy to provide more and better information if consumers were willing to pay for the product. Information isn’t free.”
Tags Add Value
HIP Labels, based in Greensboro, N.C., has a customer base made up of nurseries and greenhouses. Lovejoy says his customers that are annuals growers are highly concerned with saving on cost when it comes to purchasing tags, and less concerned with having extremely descriptive information on tags.
However, there is value to having useful information on tags. Before starting HIP Labels 12 years ago, Lovejoy worked for a large printing company that sold tags for apparel.
“We recognized a need for a company that focused solely on custom tags,” Lovejoy says.
Custom tags allow the grower to form a unique combination of material, size, shape and design, as well as providing the grower with an opportunity to promote what is unique to them.
According to Lovejoy, he started HIP Labels to get rid of the generic, no-brainer tags. Instead, he says a tag should provide consumer-specific information that adds value to a plant. It should tell a story about that plant or that brand or the grower or retailer.
“Tags operate like packaging,” Lovejoy says. “Consumer packaging, as we believe, is one of the best ways to differentiate a product at the time of sale.”
For example, Lovejoy says the same variety of hydrangeas grown in black pots from different growers will look the same to a consumer. The tag or the packaging is the factor that can add value to the product. If it provides more information, the customer is going to find the tag more valuable, and thus find that product more valuable.
Lovejoy says he recognizes an interest in providing consumers with better information, as well as more graphics and symbols. However, the challenge is finding a balance between size, amount of information and cost. There’s always more information available, Lovejoy says, but consumers don’t necessarily want to pay to access it.
Communicating To The Local Customer
Providing region-specific information is one way to add value to a plant, and a good way to educate the consumer, Lovejoy says.
Lovejoy says the technology for providing that type of detailed information exists today, but there are some issues that go along with it. Region-specific information would have to be provided on a custom tag, but there is a question of who in the supply chain is responsible for that.
According to Lovejoy, retailers expect growers to do it, but growers will say they aren’t equipped to provide the most specific information for each region. Plus, it is a significantly higher cost to the grower to provide that information, meaning the consumer has to be willing to pay for the details. Lovejoy isn’t sure consumers are willing to pay that premium.
“We can provide the information, but it can be expensive,” Lovejoy says.
As a solution to this problem, HIP Labels can help growers design a custom tag that includes a blank space for pressure sensitive labels containing specific retail information. The growers receive information from the retailer, such as its logo, address and pricing, and apply it to the tag before shipping it to the retailer.
A retailer could do that on its own, Lovejoy says, although most do not have a lot of extra labor on hand to complete a task like that.
Giorgio says a retailer can have display cards digitally printed, either in-house or through a tag or sign supplier that can carry local information. These cards can help support the tag information and expand upon it.
Also, a retailer might direct its customers to its website, where more region-specific information can be communicated, Giorgio says.
Adding Technology To Tags
Lovejoy says tags are not irrelevant, and he believes they will be even more valuable in the future as the use of custom packaging accelerates.
One way to add value to tags is by adding a technology component that can direct consumers to more detailed product information. Technology such as QR codes, near field communication and augmented reality offer potential for communicating more information at the point of sale.
“Technology like this is available now, but the implementation and user acceptance is key here,” Giorgio says.
HIP Labels has been involved with Aurasma, an augmented reality platform. With Aurasma, essentially any image can be used as a target, such as an image of a logo or product. When that image is captured on a smartphone, it can take customers to a video or website with limitless information programmed for that specific target.
QR codes offer another possibility, but they may not be a realistic solution.
“Indications are that they are not being widely used,” Giorgio says. “The experience of the shopper has not been good, and they are not likely to embrace them until this changes. Further, the demographic for QR code users might not match the demographic of the typical garden center shopper.”
“QR codes can provide a tremendous amount of information for the consumer, but I know we weren’t happy with the response our customers received,” Lovejoy says.
The technology is simply too cumbersome, Lovejoy says. Anytime a customer is required to download an app on a smartphone, it’s probably going to be an issue.
Older customers may not have smartphones, and even if they do, they may not know how to find and use an app. While younger customers might have a handle on the technology, “Anytime they have to touch a screen more than one time (to use an app), they get bored with it,” he says. For the middle-aged customer, the technology is a novelty that they might use once or twice.
While augmented reality shows promise, customers would still have to have a smartphone, an app loaded and a good internet connection to use it. Plus, the grower would have to have all of the content programmed in order for customers to access it.
Near Field Communication (NFC) also offers potential. With NFC, a message can be delivered at varying distances to a store or display. The downside is it also requires a shopper to have a smartphone, download the app and have it upon entering a store. Giorgio says NFC might be more accepted as younger people enter the garden center and are comfortable with incorporating apps into their shopping habits.
Lovejoy says with the right technology, tags could be a great way to disseminate region-specific information. But industry members need to be careful about the way they introduce and talk about new technology. While everyone is excited about it, there is still a need to be practical about the value of a product.
“If nobody can use it, it’s not valuable,” he says.
Regardless, Lovejoy says it’s an exciting time.
“All of a sudden, tags have even more value,” he says.
Giorgio agrees, saying technology will set the stage for new ways to communicate horticultural information at the point of sale.
“New generations of garden center shoppers will embrace emerging technology more readily than the current demographic of shopper,” he says. “I think it is important for everyone to be vigilant when it comes to new technology and not close yourself off to it, because when it comes, it will happen fast. You don’t want to be caught flat-footed when it does.”
Printing On Demand
Another technology to consider is the ability to print on demand. Growers now can have the convenience of printing tags and labels on their own printers.
“The large barrier for variety-specific, region-specific information is the ability to source variable data labeling, and in quantities that are acceptable to the average grower or retailer,” Giorgio says.
Digital printing offers very low minimums and can allow for hyper-local information to be printed onto a tag. However, digital tags come with compromises, he says.
Most print-on-demand systems are not designed to handle heavy material — such as the type needed for stake tags. Thus, most systems can only produce hang tags.
“These challenges would need to be overcome, Giorgio says. “But if and when they are, digitally printed tags might offer more options.”
Lovejoy says he typically recommends a printing system as a supplement to purchased tags. Some growers use printers only for shortages or emergencies. He says growers should follow the 80/20 rule, and purchase 80 percent of what they use and self-print the other 20 percent.
“It is a necessary ability to have if you’re a grower today,” Lovejoy says.
Just like everything else, there is a cost to consider. In most cases, it is expensive to print on demand. It’s a slow process, and the end product doesn’t look as polished as a purchased tag, Lovejoy says.