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Putting the Web to Work


The whys and hows to creating an online presence for your floral business.
   
 by Monica Humbard

    
 
    Customers today expect most businesses to have Web sites. Ryan Freeman, president of Strider Inc., a company that develops Web sites for small businesses, says it would be difficult to find a business that wouldn’t benefit from a Web presence. No matter how large or small your floral operation, he declares, you need a Web site to stay competitive.

    One of the primary reasons floral businesses need Web sites is to present customers with online ordering options. Michael Schrader, director of floral for Schnuck Markets, Inc., based in St. Louis, Mo., has seen an increase in orders at its floral operation’s Web site, www.schnucks.com/floral, during the past few years, which he credits to a younger, more Internet-savvy generation of shoppers.

    Ben Pauley, FTD Group, Inc.’s executive vice president, grocery division, has witnessed the same growth in Internet business. Today, FTD has thousands of members in both North and South America who utilize at least one of FTD’s many online service products.

reasons to have a web site
    If your floral business does not have a Web site, here are several reasons Mr. Freeman gives for why you should.

     SOLIDIFY YOUR LEGITIMACY Having a Web site, Mr. Freeman says, confirms the legitimacy of your business. In fact, he has discovered that consumers are suspicious of businesses without one. From a supermarket perspective, if a floral department does not have a page on its company’s Web site, customers may perceive it as insignificant, temporary or not of value to the company.

   
PULL IN WEB “WINDOW SHOPPERS” A 2007 study revealed that 80 percent of consumers research purchases online before buying in brick-and-mortar stores, Mr. Freeman reports. He explains that $500 billion in offline commerce is influenced by online commerce.

    Mr. Schrader says that’s why, during major floral holiday periods such as Valentine’s Day, when many online orders are filled by the company’s design center, all Schnucks floral departments have the recipes and necessary pieces on hand to create the holiday floral designs featured on the company’s floral Web pages. This lets consumers print out designs they find on the Web site and show them to the designers at their neighborhood floral departments.

    STAY COMPETITIVE A third reason Mr. Freeman gives for building a Web presence is that your competition most likely has one. Mr. Pauley says FTD’s goal when helping its members build Web sites is to make them more competitive and profitable.

how to build a site
    Mr. Freeman notices that many businesses immediately focus on how their Web sites will “look” before they consider their content and function. This is natural for those in the floral business, he says, because of their visual focus. Instead, he recommends spending a lot of time planning. Here are the steps he suggests:

    • First, define your goals. What do you want the site to accomplish—sell
      products, communicate with customers, promote branding and so on? Look
      at other Web sites to see what competitors and similar industries are doing.
    • Second, determine functionality. How will it work? Again, check out other sites
      to determine what might work for you.
    • Third, design the look.


get the right look
    When you reach the design phase, Mr. Freeman says to make sure your Web site reflects your business’s image. He says 100 times more people will see your Web site than walk through your doors.

    ESTABLISH A VOICE Personalize your site with the voice of your business. This should be apparent through the wording of text as well as the visual design.

    BE MEMORABLE Customizing your Web site will help you avoid becoming what Mr. Freeman refers to as a “vanilla shop.” This type of business has no significant distinction from others and doesn’t give consumers a reason to remember it.

    Mr. Freeman also encourages his clients to make their sites as diverse as possible so they will pop up when consumers do online searches. He explains that Google has duplicate content filters to ensure that its searches return a diverse group of sites.

    To help its members create unique Web sites, Mr. Pauley says FTD offers access to a variety of templates from which they can design their pages. Choices include different formats for product photos and descriptions as well as an assortment of color options. Members can upload their logos, add custom products and categories, and include information about their businesses and services. 


    DEVELOP BRANDING
Mr. Pauley recognizes the importance of FTD members supporting and building their own brands, and he encourages members to include both FTD products and their own customized designs on their Web sites. Customers find both on Schnucks’ floral pages. Mr. Schrader says having items online that are also seen in the stores creates a sense of familiarity for customers.

    INCLUDE HELPFUL CONTENT
Another way to give your site a personalized touch is to incorporate user-generated feedback. Solicit reviews from those who have ordered flowers from your site, and include the responses in your content.

    You also can enhance your content with informative articles. Schnucks’ site includes care information for making floral arrangements last longer.


    STAY OPEN MINDED
Mr. Freeman encourages his clients to try new ideas on their sites. He says it costs very little to test an idea and then change it back if it doesn’t work. One way to test ideas is to have more than one version of your site and see which one gets the best results.

must-haves
    These are some recommended features for an effective Web site:

    E-COMMERCE Mr. Pauley says you are missing out if you don’t have e-commerce capabilities on your Web site. And if you do, Mr. Freeman insists you must have proper e-commerce setup. Consumers put a high priority on secure sites, so you want the proper certification. Keep in mind that consumers get nervous if the URL (the Web site name) changes to an unfamiliar address when they go to the shopping cart. When they realize transactions are handled by a third party, Mr. Freeman says, they become concerned and may not follow through on the purchase.

    Schnucks uses FTD software to process all its online credit-card orders. Mr. Schrader believes most people recognize FTD and are comfortable with its services. In addition to security, Mr. Schrader explains, it makes more sense for Schnucks to turn to experts for this type of technology rather than going to the expense of designing its own software.

    HIGH-QUALITY PHOTOS Use only professional photographs on your Web site to ensure customers see your products in the best light. Mr. Schrader says this is an advantage to partnering with FTD, which always has high-quality images of its arrangements for members to use. FTD’s WebGifts also provides members access to high-quality images of gift items from a variety of leading brands, such as Mrs. Fields, Burt’s Bees and Build-a-Bear. When a customer purchases one of these gift items through a florist’s Web site, it is shipped directly from the manufacturer to the recipient, so the florist does not have to invest in inventory or handle shipping.

    DELIVERY AREA Give information about your delivery area on your Web site. Also include specific locations to which you will deliver, such as funeral homes and churches.

    CONTACT INFORMATION Do not rob your customers of the opportunity to have personal service if they want it. Mr. Schrader says Schnucks’ floral site includes a number for the main design center, where customers can place orders or ask for care and handling information. It also has the phone numbers for all Schnucks stores under a “How to Find Us” button.

    Make it easy for customers to find you. Although the overall company site may include the store location, it is more convenient for customers if you give directions to your store, with a map, somewhere within the floral portion of the Web site.

    STAFF INTRODUCTION Another section to consider for your site is “Meet our Team” or “Meet our Lead Designer.” This could include photos of all staff members and/or the designer as well as short paragraphs about them. This helps develop a familiarity between consumers and staff before their first in-store visit.

post-launch
    After all the research, planning, designing and launch are completed, you cannot just move on to other business concerns and forget about your Web presence. Mr. Freeman recommends making a commitment to view your Web site as another storefront. Place the same importance on your site as you do on the displays in your department.

    Here are some post-launch considerations for your site:

    MARKETING Just having an up-to-date Web site is not enough. You can’t sit back and wait for people to find it. Mr. Pauley says there is no reason to have one if you don’t intend to market it.

    To help with promotion, FTD offers its members the option of being part of an online directory of florists. When online consumers go to FTDflorists.com or FTDfloristsonline.com, they can retrieve a listing of neighborhood FTD florists in their search area. Mr. Pauley says the directory is designed to drive traffic and orders to partnering florists’ Web sites. FTD promotes the directory in its advertising to give members more exposure.

    FTD also has an online directory of florists that it places on all major online Yellow Pages directories. Mr. Pauley explains that this targets the increasing number of consumers who no longer use the printed Yellow Pages. 

    To promote its Web site, Schnucks’ floral division includes its address in all advertising as well as on its business cards and letterhead. A button that sends visitors to the floral Web site also has a prominent spot on the Schnucks home page, www.schnucks.com.

    MAINTENANCE A Web site must be up to date and visually appealing at all times. As with in-store displays, you have to give customers something new if you want them to visit frequently. That is why Schnucks recently put a floral person in charge of updating its floral presence on the Web site, a task previously handled by the company’s information technology (IT) department. Mr. Schrader says this also will enhance the floral department’s presence on the Schnucks site.

    FEEDBACK Mr. Freeman recommends testing your Web presence by getting feedback from users after it is up and running. He suggests an exit survey. Ask about consumers’ goals when visiting and whether your site helped them fulfill those goals. If your survey is in depth, consider offering an incentive, such as a $5 gift card for anyone who completes it.

    SEARCH ENGINES Today, when people need information, most turn to Internet search engines. This could be the way many potential customers will find your Web site. Mr. Schrader stresses the importance of being among the top choices that pop up in such searches. 

    Unfortunately, the expense of ensuring your Web site comes up as a top choice in these searches is too costly for many floral businesses. To address this, FTD has developed a more affordable option called FTD Local Search. It is designed to help florists compete for the top spot on the search results page of the five leading search engines. The service is customized for each florist and localized to keep the cost down. An added bonus of the service is reports that florists can use to determine their cost per order.

    TECH SUPPORT Inevitably, after your site is up and running, you will need technical help to address some issues or problems. You may find your company’s in-house IT department has difficulties understanding your challenges from a floral perspective. To eliminate this barrier, Mr. Schrader has found it easier to have the Schnucks IT department deal directly with FTD’s technical support, a perk of Schnucks’ partnership with FTD.

    FTD has a support and implementation group that can provide a site and/or help set up Web sites, as well as assist with any of its other online service products. After the initial setup, this support group also is available at no additional cost for those who want to make changes to their Web sites. These experts also provide free Web site optimization consultations. You can set up FTD online services by calling (800) 576-6721 or e-mailing floristsonline@ftdi.com.
 

 

five keys to a successful web site



 
 


If you decide to develop a Web site or upgrade the one you have, consider these suggestions:

   1. Spend time planning. Decide your goals and how the site will work.

   2. Create a design that projects the image you want the world to see.

   3. Market your site. After spending so much time developing your Web
       site, make sure your customers know you have it.

   4. Update your Web site frequently. Don’t let it get stale.

   5. Ask customers for feedback.
 


 


features in your future
    If you have checked out a significant selection of Web sites, you probably have seen a wide range of function possibilities. Over time, you may want to add features to your own site to enhance your customer service. Here are two features Mr. Freeman expects to become increasingly popular this year.

    BLOGGING More shoppers are becoming familiar with blogging. According to The American Heritage Dictionary, this is the act of making entries on a “weblog,” which is a Web site that displays in chronological order the postings by one or more individuals and usually has links to comments on specific postings. You can use this feature on your own Web site to develop a closer relationship with customers and to learn more about their needs and desires.

    VIDEOS As more and more consumers gain access to high-speed Internet, Mr. Freeman says, florists should consider instructional online videos. He suggests such topics as how to arrange a cash-and-carry bouquet at home. The key here, he remarks, is “interacting with clients.”

    As with anything you put on the Web, Mr. Freeman says, it is important to keep videos current. He suggests changing them at least monthly and targeting holidays.

    Mr. Schrader has discussed developing videos for Schnucks’ floral site with his public-relations department and hopes to have some ready to include by the 2009 Christmas holiday season. He would like to feature videos on such topics as how to decorate your home for the holidays and how to make an arrangement from flowers purchased at Schnucks. He reminds, “The public is hungry for this.”

Reach Contributing Editor Monica Humbard at (800) 355-8086.

Super Floral Retailing • Copyright 2009
Florists' Review Enterprises, Inc.