With the gift of physical contact presently out of bounds, at a time where its customers are seeking remote connections, 1-800-Flowers.com is positively blooming after investing big in ‘smart gifting.'
As the largest gifting retailer in the US, 1-800-Flowers.com has a long history of making gift making more agile – it’s in the name.
Over its 40 years in the business, the gift delivery service has banked a number of tech firsts. It was the first partner of CompuServe in 1992, the first merchant partner of AOL in 1994, and it was the first floral industry to launch a mobile gift centre on Blackberry smartphones in 2008.
“Technology engagement and pushing boundaries through digital innovation is important for us as a brand because it communicates to the users that we are thinking about the end-to-end experience,” explains 1-800-Flowers.com's chief marketing officer, Amit Shah. He has been actively leveraging tech to deepen the company’s engagement with its customers.
And the approach seems to be working. Presently, the business has never been more healthy. Back in May, it published Q3 results that showed total net revenues had increased by 12.2% to $278.8 million across all its business segments (flowers, gourmet foods, and gift baskets).
Driving a number of digital innovations, in recent years, 1-800-Flowers.com has been hellbent on making its customer experience more agile and convenient.
“Our chief exec has a clear set of rules around making sure we are where our customers are – and not the other way round,“ Shah explains. “We have a wide demographic (ages 18 to 80) so we need to make sure we adopt new modalities.
“Wherever we find our customers migrating or adopting technologies, we work closely with platforms and tech providers to activate those outcomes.“
Prior to the pandemic, 1-800-Flowers.com rolled out a number of tools to strengthen the customer journey, including a 3D and augmented reality (AR) feature that enables online customers to picture what floral arrangements will look like in situ. Further, on devices set up with Apple-Pay, customers can order flowers within the AR experience.
For Valentine‘s Day last year, a time when gifting typically goes through the roof, it introduced SmartMessage – an AR messaging feature that leverages Apple’s ARKit. Essentially, the feature allows iPhone mobile app users to send customized AR photos and video messages using a range of filters.
It also welcomed ‘SmartGift‘ to the site, which allows recipients to open their gifts virtually so that they have the option to exchange the item if it doesn't tickle their fancy, and then to schedule delivery at their own convenience.
The brand has also unlocked the potential of voice commerce, deploying voice-enabled capabilities across Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant on Android smartphones and the Google Home smart speaker, Apple Inc’s business chat on the iPhone and the Samsung digital assistant Bixby.
While 1-800-Flowers.com leveraged its digital capabilities with no knowledge that a global lockdown was around the corner, Shah explains it has been effectively helping the gifting platform navigate this unchartered time.
“As you can imagine with Covid-19, the environment has shifted and we find ourselves in an interesting position, where people are looking to express and connect more," Shah comments on business during the pandemic.
“Even though we have six feet of separation, we're seeing customers seek out deeper and more meaningful connections,“ he says. “We've seen people using the SmartGift feature to stay connected. It's been a big help in navigating the change in people's addresses as they work from lockdown.“
To better engage its customers in lockdown, last month the team used the app Wisdo, to launch Connection Communities. It is a peer-to-peer support portal that guides people through meaningful life events by connecting them with communities of people going through the same emotions, which it “intends to amplify deeply throughout the rest of the year.“
Shah explains that as people evolve more in their online identities, if you notice someone getting a promotion on LinkedIn you can send them a gift, without needing their residential address. “That's one area where we have seen some great outcomes during lockdown,“ he claims.
Excited by the rise of virtual celebrations in lockdown, Shah says “virtual birthday parties are changing the landscape of what used to be a traditional celebration. It's amplified the desire of people to be present by expressing themselves with a virtual gift.“
While Shah can't share sales data during the lockdown, he confirms that 1-800-Flowers has “seen consistent increased demand for our products“ with people shopping remotely. Furthermore, he claims the company has “seen a tremendous increase in engagement with the brand during this time.“
While it's impossible to foresee what the rest of 2020 will look like, as society comes out of lockdown, Shah says the brand will continue rolling out more engagement strategies and opportunities for its customers, like including sending free e-cards, gifts, or just consuming and finding support through online communities.
Though lockdown has kept families and friends physically apart, during this time, 1-800-Flowers.com hopes that offering the gift of staying virtually connected will help it capitalize – and continue its growth into Q4.