Looking to add e-commerce to your horticulture business? Great idea.
However, let’s get one thing straight: Adding e-commerce to your current business operation is not the same thing as replacing it with e-commerce. They’re distinctly different revenue streams that do what they do very differently.
In other words, if you have a retail storefront, it’s important to keep that in place, even if people are not coming through your doors right now. Realize that the current business model will not be the model indefinitely.
For you, e-commerce is a way to complement and build on your existing business, improving its marketing and reaching potentially thousands of new customers.
On the other hand, if your business is primarily wholesale, e-commerce can be your springboard into retail, where profit margins can be significantly higher. In doing so, you may find that retail isn’t as much of a drain on time and resources as you might have thought, and that retail e-commerce actually complements your wholesale business.
For either storefront retail or wholesale businesses, the actual process of moving into e-commerce is simultaneously more involved and less difficult than you may have considered. It has multiple steps, but the steps are relatively small, and there are resources available throughout to help make the transition.
It’s been our experience that horticulture businesses that make a successful move into e-commerce do the following six things:
1. Set objectives
A lot of businesses never get past this stage because they feel they can’t predict how much they could sell via e-commerce. However, it’s important to set some performance indicators for your business.
Start small; it’s best to begin with modest sales goals for your business, knowing that you’ll build on them month over month.
A good way to start with e-commerce goals is to map out in your head the path people would have to take to find your site and order from it. If you’re far down the search ratings and you’re not doing a lot of promotion prior to launching your e-commerce operation, you’re not going to sell very much for at least the first month.
To figure out what that means, throw out a number that represents the absolute minimum you think you’ll sell in the first month, then cut it in half. Double it for month two, and then project 10% growth per month for the next 10 months.
There; you’ve set some objectives.
2. Take inventory
You take inventory like every other business — but are you still relying on pencil and paper, or do you use a computer program? And if you use a computer program, is it an Excel spreadsheet or something more sophisticated? If it’s something more sophisticated, does it interface with your other business software?
The crucial first step in selling is knowing what you have for sale — and that starts with taking inventory on a platform that fuels an e-commerce operation. RFID-based inventory solutions (like those from Arbré Technologies) work great here.
3. List your inventory for sale
Once you have your inventory locked down, your challenges are just beginning. Now you have to list that inventory for sale in such a way that customers will want to buy.
If you’re moving from a wholesale business into e-commerce, it’s time to put on your consumer hat and ask: How do I make the buying experience simple and satisfying for my customers? If the plants look good but it’s not easy to order and pay for them, your e-commerce experiment is likely to be short-lived.
A lot can go wrong here — especially if you’re putting together an e-commerce site on the fly. The best way to prevent things from blowing up: Use an out-of-the-box solution that has enough flexibility to reflect the special character of your business.
4. Promote what you have
Too many businesses equate an e-commerce site with the ballpark in Field of Dreams — “if you build it, they will come.”
E-commerce is not a sure thing. If you build it, they probably won’t come — not unless you promote your presence.
You can promote inexpensively and get excellent results, you can promote expensively and flop, or anything in between. The key is to use every opportunity to promote your e-commerce operation — even to your good retail customers.
That starts with adding your e-commerce web address to everything you currently do promotionally, from radio ads to billboards to “buckslips” you hand out with every sale.
5. Fulfill orders
This is another area where a lot can go wrong — you can pick the wrong order, package it poorly, ship it our less-than-promptly, fail to send an email verification to the customer … lots of things. And for the customer, these areas are how you will be judged as a business.
How can you make sure you perform these key tasks properly time and again? The best way is to automate the process as much as possible, verify everything, and keep data stored in an easily recalled record.
6. Measure your success
If profit is your main goal in launching an e-commerce operation, how do you know if you’ve succeeded? And if you don’t make a profit right away, how long are you willing to wait before making significant changes?
Questions like these are so important, yet they’re rarely asked — or the answers aren’t always dealt with properly. Knowing what to measure is a good first step.
(Hint: It’s not always e-commerce sales. Don’t forget about e-commerce’s ability to get your name out and even drive people to your retail storefront.)
If you’re not sure what to measure, it’s best to have a system that provides a lot of data that can be broken out different ways, so you can play around with measurements.
Fortunately, there’s one solution that tracks inventory, offers it for sale on a stable, proven e-commerce platform, automatically generates order confirmations for consumers and pick lists for businesses, prevents sold items from being sold again, and provides shipping verification.
That platform is the result of a partnership between Arbré Technologies and Clarity Connect. It’s the only truly comprehensive e-commerce platform for horticulture businesses, and the first tool that makes getting into e-commerce easy for nurseries and greenhouses. Learn more about the e-commerce partnership here.
Whether you’re a business with an existing retail operation or a business that wants to sell on a retail basis but can’t afford or justify the investment in resources, you can still benefit greatly from moving into e-commerce.
And we can help you make that move.