As the leading global trade association helping the supermarket floral industry increase sales, Produce Marketing Association (PMA) commissioned research on floral e-commerce to help suppliers and retailers better understand the channel in the U.S. and European markets. We interviewed suppliers and e-commerce retailers to better understand opportunities and challenges. Here are a few preliminary findings. We expect to complete research this fall and will issue a full report for PMA members.
“The findings from PMA’s recently commissioned research will soon be released, as we expect to complete research this fall. We plan to issue a full report for PMA members; here is a sampling of what’s to come.”
Based on research through June, fresh-flower suppliers interviewed all had conducted business with one of the large volume e-floral sites but eventually ended their respective business relationships citing reasons such as tight margins, high inventory levels needed, inconsistent demand, inconsistent communication leading to supply shortages, and poor relationships.
Floral suppliers indicated they prefer to work with brick-and-mortar stores due to better margins; storage availability; availability to do more individual/specialized promotions; and partnership development, allowing suppliers to offer staff training and merchandising services.
Many suppliers are currently in the process of expanding their proprietary e-commerce platforms and/or offering more products direct to customers, creating additional competition for the traditional e-commerce floral retailers.
Most floral e-commerce digital storefronts have not changed much in the last two decades although this did not seem to be a concern for them. E-tailers report use of social media as a sales channel has garnered mixed results.
Many e-commerce retailers are looking for ways to increase visibility, sales and reach through social media, especially Instagram and Pinterest. They report that social media ads have increased sales and that social ads often have higher click-through rates than on other sites.
While social media has offered new ways to connect and market to consumers, it also presents challenges. Some e-tailers had trouble with delivery, differences between consumer expectations and the product received, or poor presentation/flower quality. Customers use the same social platforms to air dissatisfaction, which can lead to very public customer service and communication challenges.
Several e-commerce retailers report they are exploring branded or endorsed product lines with social media influencers. Some are targeting their ad buys around certain personalities, topics or keywords.
E-commerce retailers are approaching U.S. and international/European markets differently, and sales are varied. PMA research indicates that floral e-tailers experience more consistent sales to U.S. customers, but sales are highly concentrated around the big flower holidays including Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day whereas European sales are less cyclical.
This trend is consistent with brick-and-mortar sales, which also tend to be cyclical and driven by holidays in the United States. There’s more competition for sales from brick-and-mortar – especially grocery retail – in the European Union than in the United States because European consumers buy flowers along with their daily or weekly groceries far more often than American consumers.
Whether they purchase online or in a store, Europeans tend to view having cut flowers around the house as part of the everyday fabric of life. The tendency toward more cyclical or holiday-driven sales is an ongoing challenge in the U.S. market.
Highly visual social media sites like Instagram and Pinterest are helping drive change in the United States, and we’re seeing consumer press get in on the messaging that flowers bring joy, happiness and well-being to our lives. Magazine and digital lifestyle publications that feature gorgeous bouquets and bunches, with “treat yourself ” and “you’re worth it” calls to action, are helping change the tide.
Sustainability, procurement assurance – especially regarding fair trade or nonexploitation — and country-of-origin statements are more important to EU customers, especially in the United Kingdom and Germany.
PMA research found that suppliers are willing to offer more services to their physical retail buyers, especially grocery stores or chain stores, including training; product merchandising; and cooperative product planning, development and promotions.
E-tailer web design hasn’t evolved much the last two decades, so there is room for innovation and opportunity for physical supermarket retailers to start a new type of channel, design or ordering model using an e-commerce platform.
Potential e-tailing opportunities exist for smaller brick-and-mortar chains or individual stores through highly targeted “burst” or topic/keyword-tracked adverting on social media sites. Also, same-day delivery options utilizing ride-share or decentralized delivery services like Uber or UberEats are possible ways brick-and-mortar stores might offer unique options to their customers that e-tailers can’t.
These are just a few of the insights from PMA’s floral e-commerce research. The final research report promises to identify disrupters and opportunities in this space. We look forward to discussing challenges and opportunities at PMA’s upcoming events, including Fresh Summit in Anaheim in October.
In addition, join PMA’s “Fresh Ideas” LinkedIn group for produce and floral marketing professionals to discuss multichannel and other marketing challenges, or join PMA’s private “Focus on Floral” Facebook community for floral members. We look forward to engaging with you on our collective mission to increase floral demand.
Becky Roberts is director of Floral & New Initiatives at Produce Marketing Association (PMA). For more information about PMA membership, floral events, or the work of the Floral Council and PMA’s Floral Transportation Task Force, contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.