North America: Growing pains in floral e-commerce

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Online sales continue to grow, especially around major holidays. However, it seems that retailers hesitate to fully commit to e-commerce, even when they have capable fulfillment networks. This is explained by Lawrence Hopman of Hopman Flower Farms, a floral procurement agency that aims to connect major retailers directly with actual growers to reduce supply chain costs. “It’s like they’re dipping their toes in but not ready to take the plunge.” He adds: “The online shops that really excel are the ones laser-focused on flowers or with an established floral brand presence. One major US retailer seems to be taking it seriously and has inverted the process by requiring floral vendors to have e-commerce fulfillment in place before selling in stores.”

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In this light, Hopman Flower Farms lists some of the key areas that growers and fulfillment centers in the North American e-commerce scene struggle with.

First of all, they mention lead time, forecasting, and package planning struggles. Hopman: “E-commerce, like all floral sales, requires long forecasting, and growers need extra lead time for color-specific crops. Flowers get reserved but orders don’t always materialize, leaving growers and fulfillers holding the bag. On top of that potted containers and fresh packaging need 12+ months of planning. Prepaid overseas inventory ties up capital and proprietary designs can’t be sold elsewhere if orders fall short.”

Moreover, growers and fulfillment centers have to deal with e-commerce managers’ lack of floral knowledge. “We are trading in perishable live goods. Success comes from category experts with lifelong floral sales backgrounds, so this isn’t a job for category-hoppers.”

System integration poses another challenge as fulfillers need to serve multiple retailers with different retail systems. “Plug-and-play doesn’t really exist,” he says. Yet, he finds that custom EDI software is promising: “One fulfiller designed custom EDI software to intake orders from multiple platforms simultaneously. That’s the future: volume based on multiple income streams.”

Further, growers face the issue of charges and shipping costs. Hopman elaborates: “Some major e-commerce platforms charge high upfront fees to boost visibility, making it cost-prohibitive to test their viability without an initial trial period. Similarly, some retailers won’t allow access to their discounted shipping rates, raising fulfillment costs.”

Shipping can also be challenging and Hopman shares in which ways shipping can be successful: “Overnight couriers handle potted plants and cut flowers well. Outer packaging is dialed in. Consumer complaints are minimal, even during peak Mother’s Day volumes,” he concludes.

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Hopman Flower Farms reps

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