One the of the things we tend to do a lot of in this industry is take stock of where the online floristry industry is and where we think it will be going.
Florists have been early adopters of ecommerce
There is no doubt that the cut flower industry as a whole has changed substantially over the last twenty years. In the early days before the interest Florists were some of the very first adopters of “ecommerce” through relay networks like Inteflora. They used faxes and hand written orders, then proprietary networks to send and share orders. And the industry has really been at the forefront of online shopping.
In the last decade there has been significant disruption, with cut flowers being more sold in supermarkets, Service Stations, Convenience stores and other small stores. This has definitely seen a loss in the earnings of many small florist shops and many have closed or consolidated with other stores.
The last twenty years has also seen the explosive growth of the “Order Gatherers” and the warehouse production of orders sold online through corporate behemoths and then made and delivered for a pittance by florists out in the suburbs.
This also goes hand in hand with the explosive growth of “fake” florist websites that pretend to be real florists in suburbs that you deliver to. These are going to get worse before they get better but I believe that there are still huge opportunities to be made!
Some florists have done well from the Order Gatherers, whilst others have been pushed to the wall and disappeared.
This has been a time of huge disruption and the disruption is not going to stop anytime soon.
Apart from the changing landscape of where cut flowers are sold, technology is probably the single biggest factor that is going to continue to disrupt the industry from Artificial Intelligence to the changing way people search for and consume information.
As more devices allow searching using speech through Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home more people will search for florists using these devices.
Now here is where we have an interesting point though. If someone is using Alexa in their living room to find a florist to send flowers, they aren’t going to be looking at a screen. The transaction itself is more likely to be via voice.
Me: Hey Alexa I need to send flowers to My Aunt Flo
Alexa: Where do you need the flowers to be sent Drew?
Me: She lives in Chatswood
Alexa: I’ve found five florists in Chatswood would you like me to list them or call the first one?
Me: Call the first one thanks
Alexa: making the call now Drew
Then I'm put through by telephone to the florist and hopefully complete the order.
This is just a simulated of what a simple interaction might look like, assuming Alexa understands the question “I need to send flowers”. But it could equally be done with the question:
Me: Alexa find me a florist in Chatswood
Now this sort of interaction is happening already with all the personal digital assistants. The key here is to make sure that you have claimed your Google Maps Listing, Google Business Listing, Bing Business Listing and Apple Maps Business Listing as this is where the data is currently coming from.
There are loads of questions around how this would work, IE would the list of florists be paid for like Adwords? Would it be the same as Organic Search or would it be the highest star ratings?
Me: Alexa send flowers to my Aunt Flo
Alexa: Ok Drew Is Aunt Flo, Florence Nightingale at 55 Hospital Street Sydney?
Alexa: Ok Drew how much do you want to spend?
Me: 100 dollars please
Alexa: Ok Drew are there any particular type of flowers you would like to send?
Me: What are my options?
Alexa: You can have a small boxed arrangement, an arrangement in a vase, a posy, would you like me to go on?
Me: No Alexa I think a Vase would be perfect
Alexa: OK Drew When do you need the flowers to be sent?
Me: Today thanks
Alexa: Ok Drew just checking to make sure the florist in Chatswood can do that please wait a moment.
Alexa: Ok yes they can deliver today, what would you like the card message to say drew?
Me: Alexa the card message can say Aunt Flo have a wonderful Birthday with Love from Drew & Lee
Alexa: OK Drew the card message will say Aunt Flo have a wonderful Birthday with Love from Drew & Lee, is that correct?
Alexa: Ok Drew confirming we will send Flowers in a Vase to Aunt Flo today at 55 Hospital Street Sydney for 100 dollars, there will also be a 10 fdollar delivery charge, please confirm the order:
Me: Yes please Alexa please proceed with the order
Alexa: One moment please whilst I make your order ….. OK Drew the order has been confirmed and your Credit card charged, would you like to get notifications when the status of the order changes?
Me: Yes Please
Now that scenario may seem very far in the future and very much like science fiction, but believe it or not it is possible now. But there are so many hurdles to overcome to get there that I think over the next few years it’s more likely the assistants will simply connect you via phone to the consumer.
AI or Artificial Intelligence is a big potential change not just for florists but for all businesses. AI Chat bots that offer first levels of customer support for florists whether it be via telephone or online are becoming more common place.
If you have joined a live chat online in the last 12 months it’s most likely that you have probably initially been served by a Chatbot rather than a real person.
A lot of simple questions can get answered by an Chatbot like:
All of these simple answers can be done very easily by an AI Agent. Even the last question:
Me: How much is delivery
Bot: Where are you delivering to
Bot: That will be $10 flat fee if you want it delivered today you will need to order before 1pm in three hours time, can I help you order something?
It just requires a lot of set up to go through the questions and then create the answer flows.
Facebook is an easy way to start in this regard
But it’s not just Chatbots that are going to become more prevalent.
Imagine this let’s call our concierge Buttercup:
Buttercup: Hi Drew welcome back to Buttercup Flowers, I’m Buttercup and I’m your personal virtual assistant how can I help you?
Me: Hi, I’m looking for some flowers for my friend who just had a baby
Buttercup: Congratulations to your friend, we can certainly help, let’s take you to the New Baby Page
Buttercup: Were you looking for something particular or a price?
Me: No, but I didn’t want to spend any more than 100 dollars
Buttercup: OK I’ve highlighted for you the products that are all under 100 dollars, did you want me to show you only products for a boy or a girl?
Me: Yes for boys only
Buttercup: Ok here are our most popular products for boys under 100 dollars
Scrolls though website clicks on a product and orders.
In this case AI could be very useful to help someone find what they are looking for by asking a series of questions that are intelligent to what the customer is looking for. It’s more than just asking three questions it’s understanding the context of the current and previous questions.
AI can be used to Personlize the user experience of a florist website.
For example if a customer visits a website and used the search term “send plants Sydney” there is a pretty good chance they are looking to send plants to someone in Sydney.
This means that the messaging on the website should be personalized for Sydney deliveries and focus on plant sales.
Have you heard about Structured Data yet?
You should have but if not it simply means providing information in such a way that the search engines can extract specific details about your business. Common structured data includes things like:
Google provides structured data for all sorts of content and business types such as:
The current structured data sets are great for what I call traditional ecommerce businesses that sell the same products like white goods or clothes.
But they totally fail online florists other than the very rudimentary information.
What we need is a common structured data for florists that means we can interact with technology in a meaningful way. Data like:
These are needed for the uniqueness of an online floral order if technology like the interaction with digital assistants or AI is going to get off the ground and be useful.
If you can order a pizza from the local pizza store and be notified when it’s being made and then track the pizza as it is delivered to you why can’t you do the same with your online floral order?
The technology is there, most courier companies allow you to track the drivers and deliveries. But it’s bit really been adopted by many florists. Mainly because they aren’t connecting their website to a proper integrated order management system.
However this is changing and it will continue to change rapidly.
These are really only a small example of the changes that are being driven by technology in the flower industry.
I think if the last 25 years of disruptive change in the industry has been dizzying, the next twenty five years are going to be just as dizzying.
Technology permeates every part of our personal and business lives. We don’t really know what technology will be developed in the future. But we can certainly say that it’s going to be an interesting ride!