How to make fertile soil for online growth
Robert Plante Greenhouses (RPG), like many other businesses in Ottawa, Canada, was faced with a challenge last spring. The government announced that all non-essential businesses would have to close. The news was particularly difficult for RPG as it was ramping up for its busy spring and summer season when RPG makes nearly 80% of its annual 7-figure sales.
The nursery opened its doors in 2001 and decided to move to the internet to sell plants online. This was not an easy transition. Gardeners at all levels love to touch and smell the plants they purchase. With an eCommerce site, could RPG generate the same buzz for its customers?
They could, it turned out. RPG’s digital strategy has been built around a Wix eCommerce site. Even though in-person restrictions have been lifted (the greenhouses are now at 25% capacity), RPG is still using its digital savvy for both online and in person traffic. RPG’s media manager Colin Matassa said that the spring rush is just beginning, but the retailer “already sets records.”
Selling plants online: What are the Key Features?
RPG is an excellent example of how brick-and mortar nurseries can be transformed to sell plants online. Let’s take a look at some of the tools available to help them grow their business before we get into their story.
1. All-in-one eCommerce platform. With all the required eCommerce tools included in the platform or made available in the Wix App Market, it is easier to launch, manage, and scale an eCommerce business.
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2. Omnichannel sales: You can sell on your website, but that’s only one channel. Selling plants on online marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay can help you reach more people. With a Wix Point-of-Sale system (POS), you can integrate both your online and in-person sales.
3. Pickup and delivery options
4. Email marketing: This is an excellent way to inform your customers about new plants and promotions. Campaigns can be run directly from Wix.
5. Social media marketing: It is crucial to have a seamless integration with your company’s Facebook and Instagram pages in order to drive both paid and unpaid traffic.
Robert Plante Greenhouses used these eCommerce tools to survive the pandemic and emerge stronger than ever. Let’s take a closer peek below.
The Seeds of a Pivot
RPG was faced with the same problem last spring as other family-owned small businesses: They didn’t know how much time the restrictions would last so any solution they came up with had to be long-lasting.
The nursery also had another concern: their plants. How could they make sure that customers interested in receiving new plants each day were updated with their inventory?
Their digital presence was key to the solution. They used their website to drive orders that could either be picked up curbside, or in-store. The eCommerce shipping options made it easy to transfer different pickup options.
The process was easy once a customer was ready for purchase. Online shoppers could pay with their credit cards. They could also chat live with nursery staff to ask any questions. An automated email would be sent to remind them if they abandon their cart. After placing an order, an automated email was sent to solicit feedback about their customer experience. The Sales Pop App could also be used to increase sales and create urgency by showing site visitors what other people have purchased recently.
Another challenge was making sure customers were aware of what was happening in real time. Colin Matassa was responsible for maintaining the website’s 856% increase in unique visitors over a month (March 2020 to April 2020). He says that the Wix App is very helpful as it allows you to upload photos of your products quickly.
Matassa created a website that allowed users to navigate through RPG’s many hundreds of plants. He divided the site into categories such as evergreens, bulbs and seeds, succulents, and cacti. This allowed customers to filter the latest listings. One-click sharing was also possible via WhatsApp, Facebook and Pinterest. This allowed plant lovers to start a conversation about potential purchases.
Customers were encouraged to inspect their order when they picked it up. This helped to bridge the digital and physical customer experience. If a refund was required, Stripe was used, which integrates seamlessly with Wix.
These features made RPG’s customers happy to return to the nursery again and again. RPG had this information thanks to their website analytics dashboard. Matassa says, “Looking back at our top customers in the last year, some have spent $3,000-5,000 dollars and placed 30 to 45 orders.”
Expanding Their Reach
RPG realized quickly that many people were first-time buyers of plants and discovered the greenhouses via Instagram. They could actually see how much traffic was coming in from Instagram to their website right away. Matassa says, “We would post a photo online of a new plant at 8pm. It’d be a mad rush.” “You would see the number users on the site skyrocket with everyone trying desperately to buy the plant.”
RPG saw Instagram as a key sales channel and wanted to make the most of it. They created a link tree to direct users to the most popular parts of the website, including driving directions, FAQs, business hours, gift cards, and their newsletter.
In their pinned Instagram stories they included more information for customers. This included pricing details for local delivery, a photo of how to choose that option during checkout, a map showing the area covered by Plant Runz and instructions for curbside pick up, as well as the number to call upon arrival.
RPG followed the same strategy for their social media: creating content that generates excitement and drives traffic to their website. They posted photos of high-resolution plants on Facebook with captions for potential buyers. There are plenty of them in stock, so there’s plenty to go around. Available in a 4 inch pot for $29.99
RPG achieved a remarkable 2,566% return on monthly spend by using Facebook Ads by Wix. This powerful algorithm uses Wix’s machine-learning algorithm to continuously optimize ads. They also gained valuable insights and analytics from their dashboard. Facebook Ads customers were, for example, 84% under 44 years old.
Their newsletter was also no different. Matassa claims that the newsletter was not a priority before the pandemic. It had about 300 subscribers at the time. It is now a priority and has reached 6,000 people. Email marketing is a great way to reach customers who are not on social media. Customers can receive information about sales, special events, updates to the greenhouse, contests and new plants. To accommodate RPG’s multilingual customers, the newsletter is available in English and French.
These business strategies paid off: RPG fulfills 400-500 orders per day, even though COVID restrictions are beginning to ease.
The number of customers requesting information about in-store visits increased as Ottawa slowly reopened. Matassa says, “We’re getting an overwhelming number of calls asking if our store is still open because of COVID.” Matassa realized how valuable the information was to their customers via social channels and newsletters so they decided to adapt their website to reflect COVID’s changing circumstances.
When you land on the page, you will see a popup that says “WELCOME to ROBERT PLANT GREENHOUSES!” “NOTICE! We are OPEN!” We are open 7 days a semaine from 9am-4pm for in-store shopping.
Visitors who need to be reminded as they browse the site may find it helpful to have a banner at top that lists the business hours, contact us links at the top, and bottom. It also includes the physical address and operating hours at the bottom.
Matassa says that 95% of business happens in-store. RPG’s social media encourages customers to visit these stores. Another pinned Instagram story features Daisy and Douglas, the chickens owned by RPG. They are seen eating breakfast, hiding in the dragon tails, and laying down under the nursery tables. This is a compelling attraction for anyone who wants to visit the greenhouses. RPG also re-posts photos of users who have tagged them with photos of the plants they purchased, encouraging others to do so. This is just one strategy RPG has had the opportunity to adjust as they dealt with the effects of the pandemic.
Just as Robert Plante Greenhouses was getting ready for their busiest season of the year, Ottawa’s COVID restrictions were implemented. The nursery was able to continue its thriving business despite the ban on in-person gatherings. They were able to expand their customer base by using the eCommerce features on their website and changing their digital strategy in order to drive traffic.