Before the pandemic, most independent garden centers were managing with a traditional, brick-and-mortar shopping experience. But as the states continue to restrict in-store operations, more and more of us need to look to new ways to stay in business.
If the ever-changing laws have you struggling to adapt, moving your sales online is your best option. Fortunately, there are many ways to pull off online selling without sinking deeper into the red.
For some time, the unspoken objective of all social media accounts has been to “stand out.” These days, the rules have changed altogether. Now, retailer social media accounts have become the default stand-in for the in-store experience.
Right now, garden centers are finding a great deal of success using social media features like the Instagram feed, Instagram Stories, and Facebook Live to give customers a look inside their stores.
Try using Instagram to show off snapshots of your most flaunt-worthy plants. Show customers what’s blooming and use features like Stories to advertise features or flash sales on items that need to move quickly. Make sure to update your Instagram bio or “pin” a post to the top of your Facebook page with information on how to place an order.
Continue to build engagement by “going Live” on Facebook or Instagram to offer in-store tours or product features. For instance, try doing a five-minute video in your native plant department explaining the crucial role natives play in the ecosystem. Keep your videos short and to-the-point, and make sure to choose a location with great lighting and a beautiful backdrop.
If you’ve struggled to build a social media following in the past, consider running paid ads on Facebook to reach a larger local audience. Use your ad space to ask people to follow you for updates on what’s in-store.
If you’ve built a substantial email list, there’s never been a better time to make use of it. You can use your email newsletter to show off what’s in-bloom in your store week by week. Communicate information about promotions, specials, and featured items, and feel free to use stock images where needed. Consistent, regular communication is more important right now than using original photography.
Your ordering process and safety policies should be included in each newsletter. Create boilerplate text to place in the footer of your email, so shoppers can always find and refer back to it.
If you have the resources to add an online store to your website, this tactic can streamline your operations even after people come out of isolation. E-commerce allows you to keep selling during all hours of the day and devote your in-store operations to order fulfillment.
If shipping isn’t an option (and for most independent garden centers, it isn’t), make it clear to your buyers that online orders are for local pickup or delivery only. Many garden centers have been successful with a strict curbside-pickup-only policy, in which the customer is asked to wait for a telephone or email confirmation before coming to pick up their order.
Others are offering local delivery with a minimum purchase amount or allowing shoppers to add on delivery for an extra surcharge. Many customers will choose to purchase more items to get the best value from this surcharge.
The option of delivery will also appeal to shoppers who would otherwise be visiting a competitor in closer proximity. Allow a 24-hour delivery window so you can pre-plan the most efficient route to get all of the previous day’s orders fulfilled.
We’re facing a new way of doing business, but with it comes an opportunity to strengthen and build our customer relationships. You might be surprised by how many people are eager to show their support, and how these new tactics will continue to help you grow when “business as usual” resumes—whenever that may be.