Retail market research and floral industry professionals reveal nine consumer purchasing preferences and how to satisfy them.
by Matt Kelly
Every year consumer needs change and evolve, and attentive floral retailers find new ways to meet and exceed expectations. Here we offer nine common wants of today’s consumers along with ideas on how to adapt your business model accordingly to satisfy new and existing customers.
1. local retailers
Today’s consumer culture has a flourishing interest in job creation and favors locally owned retailers who contribute to their communities. Discounts are still pursued by many of today’s consumers, but there are those, especially more affluent shoppers, who seek out local retailers for the shopping experiences they offer, regardless of price.
For independent retailers with specialized offerings, success is often more about how they sell than what they sell. Florists should focus on making shopping experiences as fun as possible for consumers and creating fun or modern floral arrangements to achieve the highest perceived value possible.
Although the 2008 recession forced some florists to close their doors, many of the shops that survived became even more shrewd and resilient, and their time has come to thrive, now that consumers are buying locally again. Shops that withstood the recession had to differentiate themselves based on skills and expertise in specific niches of their trade rather than simply providing commodities.
2. online purchases
According to Bazaarvoice, a social commerce solutions company, e-commerce has been growing for the last several years and will account for $327 billion in consumers spending in 2016. Empowered by online shopping options, consumer demand for web-savvy businesses with exceptional in-store services has reached an all-time high. It’s up to you to exceed customers’ expectations to stay ahead of your competition.
“It’s absolutely important to have a shoppable website,” says Gregg Lauck, owner of The Greenhouse, a Fresh Flower Market in Hudson, Ohio. “Not everyone wants to call into the shop and spend five or 10 minutes on the phone. Some like the convenience of placing their orders online. We have Web orders that come in overnight, even around 2 in the morning sometimes. Some customers work third and second shifts, and having a shoppable website is a great way to meet their needs.”
In the past, consumers often waited until they were “out running errands” to make purchases, but the days of such delayed gratification seem to be coming to an end. Oftentimes, if would-be customers can’t buy something online from a given retailer in a few convenient clicks, they give up and turn their attention elsewhere. The importance of offering your customers a refined online shopping experience cannot be overstated.
3. knowledgeable staff
Today’s shoppers are more likely to buy from retailers who show confidence in themselves and the products they sell. It’s wise to assume that many of the customers who enter your store have already researched your products and those of your competitors on your stores’ websites or through online reviews.
Successful shop owners are often highly engaged with employees about their interactions with customers and the community. When a sales team is part of the conversation, shops are able to stage united efforts to retain existing customers and ultimately expand profitability.
As you connect with customers, listen attentively, but don’t hesitate to gently take the lead of conversations and show your knowledge by guiding them through the sales process. Be sure you thoroughly know your products, and be prepared to skillfully demonstrate or explain how they will benefit your customers.
4. time efficiency
“People nowadays just have no time, and they’re always doing things at the last minute,” says Gregg. “You have to market yourself and keep up with the needs of the consumers. If they wish to have their receipts mailed to them or pictures taken of their arrangements and texted to them, whatever it may be, we give them what they want. We live in an age of instant gratification.”
Can your sales process be more efficient for shoppers? To find out, it might be best to go straight to the source. Ask your customers if your shop could implement new services to make their experiences quicker and easier. Whether you ask the question in person or through a quick social media survey, you might receive great advice from a few expert shoppers. Even if this doesn’t result in usable suggestions, the survey process shows your willingness to serve and that you value your customers’ opinions.
5. social media engagement
Consumers favor shops that are constantly engaged through social media and email marketing. To effectively promote your shop on social media, timing can be a huge factor. Advanced posts can help raise consumer awareness of new products or holiday promotions and encourage consumer engagement. Watch for times when customers are most responsive to your posts, and update your pages at those times, whenever possible.
“We are huge believers in Constant Contact marketing,” says Gregg. “We like to get things out there on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, and we are constantly email marketing. We use social media to promote sales for every holiday, share wedding photos, show consumer designs we’ve created and everything we have in our showroom. We promote design classes and share links to other media appearances. The list is endless.”
Social media can also keep you informed about your community and better your understanding of what your target shoppers want. This will allow you to structure your future marketing efforts around your present and prospective customers’ needs. In Facebook’s reported 2014 second-quarter earnings, Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s CEO, said the average U.S. consumer spends 40 minutes on Facebook per day. Many consumers check their newsfeeds every day and are often on the lookout for the newest products from specialty retailers.
Using social media to consistently showcase your latest floral creations is an immeasurably good way to keep your shop from getting lost in the shuffle and your products at the forefront of customers’ minds. It’s important to vary the types of content you share online. Promotional posts should be no more frequent than other useful or inspirational content.
6. do-it-yourself inspiration
With endless information accessible with one click of a mouse or touch of a smartphone screen, DIY consumers are increasingly common. Oftentimes, customers visit flower shops with detailed ideas of what they want their designs to look like and no intention of asking for advice. Sadly, some DIY consumers avoid florists altogether.
As mentioned in the “Knowledgeable Staff” consumer preference on Page 71, shoppers favor retailers with exceptional product knowledge. Not all design styles lend themselves to the DIY enthusiast, but by staying engaged through design workshops in your store or online instructional videos, you can establish yourself as a floral authority in your community.
Now the most visited social network in the U.S., YouTube presents a fantastic opportunity for businesses to gain brand recognition and authority. By creating instructional floral design YouTube videos, sharing them across multiple social media platforms and linking them to your website, you can stay ahead of the DIY trend. Although you might not always get the viewers’ business, this will ensure that your shop is thought of when people in your community need help from an experienced professional florist.
7. high-value products
Although many wealthier consumers are willing to pay higher prices for specialty products, consumers are generally more value-oriented and on the lookout for good deals. You don’t need to become a bargain flower shop to compete, but your business strategies should include sales, promotions and social media campaigns to reach out to consumers who are resistant to paying full price.
According to a 2015 report by Unity Marketing, a boutique marketing consulting firm in Stevens, Pa., the top 20 percent of affluent customers comprises young people making $100,000 per year in household income. Those making between $100,000 and $250,000 per year, “high-earners-not-rich-yet” (HENRYs), account for roughly 40 percent of all consumer spending. HENRYs tend to be practical about buying commodities from mass-marketers, but they gravitate to specialty shops, where they know the owners and staff, to buy high-end products.
“In terms of product, we have always carried the most exceptional products we can get,” says Gregg. “You have to distinguish the products you sell from those that customers can get at a grocery or craft store. We carry really high-end silks, greenery, accessory items and home décor. When it comes to fresh, we carry the highest quality you can buy. Consumers aren’t going to see our products anywhere else in our area. It might surprise you that customers pay $30 per stem for the best and biggest Hydrangeas, but they do.”
Successful floral retailers know who their target customers are and how to offer them the highest value. Of course, some customers define the word “value” differently than others. For example, wealthy car shoppers might consider $300,000 to be a great value on their next Ferrari based on the extraordinarily high quality of the product. Many shoppers, however, favor discounts in their search for the best value. It’s up to you to decide which products and corresponding prices your target customers consider to be the best deal. Look for ways to reduce your cost of goods sold to lower your prices without cutting into profits. You might even want to consider reducing the number of types of flowers you offer to minimize waste and unnecessary expenses.
“Traditional florists tend to buy 50 different options of flowers hoping to sell 25, and they have to charge more to cover that expense,” says Christina Stembel, founder of Farmgirl Flowers in San Francisco, Calif. “To stay competitive pricewise, it helps to eliminate as much of that uncertainty as possible from your financial model, even if you carry only 10 of your most popular flower varieties. By reducing waste, you can offer customers better deals and make more money.”
8. millennial appeal
One of the most sought-after market carried the most exceptional products demographics by many businesses today, millennials are known for their constant online engagement and social media fixation. According to Forbes magazine, there are 80 million millennials in the U.S. alone, representing about a fourth of the population. With $200 billion in annual buying power, millennials have inspired companies to expand their social media presence, offering loyalty to brands that pursue them online, even into adulthood.
But millennials want to do more than change online business models. They don’t want their product options to be dictated by the companies they patronize. Millennials are interested in helping companies conceptualize new products and services. When you interact with millennials, online or in person, find out what they would change about your business. If you don’t have many on staff, consider hiring some young people to help keep your business fresh and appealing to them and their peers, and listen attentively to their concerns and ideas.
“Successful retailers do not think they know what customers want,” says horticultural retail consultant John Stanley. “They find out what is wanted by asking not only their existing customers but also potential new customers. Millennials are the new consumers, and they think differently from older customers and have different needs and wants.”
9. conscientious businesses
As much of today’s culture holds passionate opinions about the need for equality among people of various genders, ages, races, religions, sexual orientations, etc., many consumers are shifting their attention to businesses that offer products, advertising and policies that support their causes. From local retailers to corporations, many businesses have adapted their marketing, products and services to show support for groups and demographics they believe are struggling for equal treatment and rights.
In 2015, some retailers removed gender-specific product categories from their stores. Ad campaigns featured same-sex couples and transgender celebrities, and brands increasingly took on personalities of their own. Frito-Lay created rainbow-colored Doritos in support of the LGBT community, inspired by the their Pride Flag, and numerous businesses changed their Facebook profile pictures to include rainbows in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to legalize same-sex marriage. Some flower shops have shown their support as well by organizing weddings for same-sex couples and sharing their eagerness to do so in same-sex-specific promotions.
The question of how to react to this increasing concern from consumers is unique compared to that of other consumer preferences listed in this article. If you need help deciding what’s right for your business, consider the potential positive and negative consequences your choices may have on your shop’s profitability, your willingness to alienate some consumers to overtly stand by your principles, and whether your company’s beliefs will be accurately perceived by your customers.
People know the types of product and shopping experiences they’re looking for. They shop on their own terms, and successful specialty retailers see this as an opportunity to become more relevant by tailoring their business models to seamlessly fit the needs of their target customers. By embracing the ever-changing desires of today’s shoppers, floral professionals are attracting loyal customers who are willing to spend more money more often and even help promote their favorite businesses for freeby spreading word of their positive experiences to family and friends.