Sector debates online profitability - Can garden centres make a profit from selling online?

The HTA Garden Futures conference at Heythrop Park in Oxfordshire saw a panel hosted by HW's Matthew Appleby discuss concerns about whether online sales could be profitable for garden centres.

Panel discussion: e-commerce was the topic for debate at HTA Garden Futures conference held in Oxfordshire
Panel discussion: e-commerce was the topic for debate at HTA Garden Futures conference held in Oxfordshire

Julian Winfield (Haskins), Sam Bosworth (Bosworth's/Choice), Matthew Bent (Bents) and Adrian Davey (Hozelock) spoke on the future look of garden centres. Winfield questioned whether garden centres need to do e-commerce to be successful in the future. He said he has a "laid-back attitude" to internet sales after 15 years of discussion, but added: "Can you make money out of it? We probably believe you can't."

Bent cited Hayes garden centre as doing 30-40 per cent of trade via the internet, but added: "For us we look on it as a convenience. You come to the store and order when you get home on the internet. We cover our costs on it." He said internet sales have the potential to be 10-15 per cent of overall sales.

He added that certain sectors have been "thrashed" by online undercutting, with Weber barbecues the "classic" example. Bents has run promotions on Weber, matching internet prices, and seen 140 per cent sales uplift. Winfield agreed barbecues are under internet price pressure.

Bosworth said his centre has started internet sales this year "in a small way to be part of it".

Some sectors are better for internet sales than others, he suggested. For instance, artificial Christmas trees and lights with "fluffy bits" sell best in store.

He pointed out that garden centres are "lucky" because gifts, catering and plants are "not really internet products", although "plants will eventually go more that way".

Primrose: Online retailers "not to blame for decreases in prices"

Ian Charles, a director at online garden retailer Primrose, said: "Online often gets the blame for driving prices down. But it’s not in our interests to have low prices — we have very high marketing costs. Lots of wholesalers who supply garden centres won’t supply us anyway. It’s important to remember that, for many purchasers, online is no longer simply a way to get a better price on a product that they’ve found in a store. For many consumers, online is the place to find a product that more perfectly fits their requirement and is also a faster and more convenient way to purchase."

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