The increasing importance of e-commerce prompts businesses in the floral industry to discover new and agile ways of working. FloraCulture International October 2022 edition focuses on florists expanding sales online from the shop floor.
From sales teams learning how to gain new business through online platforms to buyers discovering the best e-commerce sites for sourcing plants, firms throughout the floriculture supply chain are going through a step-change as they adapt to a new era of enhanced business-to-business (B2B), and business-to-consumer (B2C), e-commerce.
Whilst this new age began before the arrival of Covid-19 (with many companies investing in e-commerce before 2020), floriculture firms assert that the pandemic has arguably strengthened e-commerce’s place in the market. Whilst online sales have levelled out since the pandemic’s peak, demand for digital purchasing continues to grow.
With this in mind, businesses in the floral industry have informed FCI that they are investing in this area. This follows the result of an American industry-funded survey (published by the Floral Marketing Fund at the end of 2020) entitled “The Use of B2B E-Commerce Technologies in the Floral Industry”, in which approximately 50 per cent of the 306 respondents believed that e-commerce would account for 21-80 per cent of their revenue in five years.
Mark Berglund, president of Washington Floral Service of Tacoma, a wholesaler based in Washington, US, tells FCI: “Online sales moved to the top of our priority list in 2019 – not quite early enough to be a huge benefit in 2020, though.
“The early pandemic cemented e-commerce’s place in our ‘top three strategies’ list. We now have a competent sales platform working, and its continued growth and refinement remain at the top of our project list.”
He adds: “On a wider basis, I see many other industry members in the wholesale end making great strides as well – or if they aren’t, they are certainly stressing over it.”
Berglund reveals that Washington Floral’s current goal is to allow the customer to book orders online – “but at that point to insert the order into our regular workflow using their existing salesperson. Since we rely on the service aspect of our business, we didn’t want to short-circuit the salesperson.”
Vadim Bogdanov, CEO of the global wholesaler Potted, emphasises the important role that e-commerce now plays in purchasing stock. In particular, he highlights the “importance and clear benefits of FloraMondo Auction Presales for our online store.”
“We buy approximately 30 per cent of indoor and outdoor potted plants and 60-70 per cent of cut flowers on this platform for our customers.”
Bogdanov notes that one of FloraMondo Auction Presales’ benefits is that Potted can buy very small quantities there, such as one tray or one potted plant – or one container or box of cut flowers.
“The main customers of our online store are florists, medium and small plant, and flower shops, as well as retail customers. The amount of product ordered by our customers can vary greatly. It ranges from one tray (one plant) or one container of cut flowers to the full trolleys. Thus, Auction Presales and other supply platforms allow us to be very flexible and meet all the needs of our customers.”
He also advocates Royal FloraHolland’s new Insights for Buyers service – an app that gives buyers more insight into their purchases.
“I think these analytics [tool] is an absolute must-have for online stores. We use it to update the cut flowers/house plants section on our website, which helps us make each order ‘really’ online, with actual prices and availability.”
He adds: “I think it’s the best thing that has happened at the flower market this year.”
With such innovations in mind, Alejandro Perez, CEO of Florida (US)-based Komet Sales (which specialises in helping companies in the floral industry make the technological shift to e-commerce), claims that we are currently undergoing the long-overdue “digitisation of the floral industry.”
He observes, for instance, that many companies are now making 20 per cent of their sales online “with an eye to growing these numbers in years to come.”
He adds: “E-commerce, when used right, can become a potent tool for the sales team. Sales teams that understand this can leverage their e-commerce to grow their business and provide new options for their customers. Purchasing departments have a new challenge: keeping up inventory levels that make it exciting for their customers to buy from.”
Louis van Dijke, commercial manager for Oriental Group – a grower of bonsai trees, cacti, and Lucky bamboo based in Bleiswijk, The Netherlands – points out that the firm (which, historically, has mainly focussed on B2B) is currently developing a new, wholly-owned online sales platform which, by 2023, will see the creation of “a one-stop-shop for Oriental-branded products.”
He explains: “We are currently working with our trading partners to optimally deliver our products to consumers via web shops of these partners – processing our range in the packaging of Oriental Group.”
Van Dijke notes that this new service will require Oriental Group’s team to consider the end-consumer’s needs.
“The sale of B2B is completely different to a sale on a B2C webshop. For example, when a consumer orders digitally, they have the expectation of the image on the webshop. The actuality of the product’s image during the different seasons of nature is of enormous importance.”
Grower Rosy Hardy of Hardy’s Cottage Plants in Hampshire, UK, set up her online shop 15 years ago. Then, online sales accounted for 5-10 per cent of revenue.
Although Hardy’s online sales have calmed down compared to the giddy heights of the first lockdown, they are growing steadily and currently represent somewhere between 35-40 per cent of total sales.
She observes, “It [e-commerce] is something that, as a business, we need to concentrate on. A lot of it is about managing our staff. We have staff who can multitask – managing our stock so it can go out to our online customers. “The plant has got to have a good enough root on it for it to be able to arrive in good condition. So, it’s about monitoring the stock – getting it in the ground at the right time, making sure listed it’s online at the right time and ready to go out to people at the right time.”
Indeed, there is a lot to consider when buying and selling online, but with careful planning and business management, floriculture firms are successfully utilising e-commerce technologies.