Wyevale Garden Centres is due to launch its delayed online offer in spring 2016, while online retailer Primrose has made efforts to match its hard goods offer with plants over the past year. Garden centres are split as to the value of e-commerce, with the likes of Haskins questioning it and other such as Hayes turning online transactions into a fifth of sales.
Clay said: "I think it probably is proving difficult for garden centres to sell plants online. Within garden centres, fewer and fewer are plant centres. They are more destination centres so if plants are only 15-20 per cent of turnover it's quite difficult to devote an awful lot of resource to an online plant offer because you don't have the resource. We're known for our plants and less known for our products, but garden centres are 30-40 per cent or more food and then there's the ferts and chems and the franchises. We don't have that problem."
He added that for garden centres moving into online plant retailing: "The difficult thing is the cost of delivery." He asked whether garden centres should charge a differential for click-and-collect and pointed out that pricing small volume selling delivery "will cost a lot of money".
The biggest online garden retailer, Primrose, is "clearly selling garden products very efficiently but their range is very different to us". He added: "Plants are difficult because they are live things. First you have to grow them, then pick and pack, and get them to the customer without damage."
Crocus promotes itself at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, where it has won 20 gold medals and seven best-in-shows. Clay said: "The aim at Chelsea is to offer the ordinary gardener the same palette of plants that the top gold medallist at Chelsea uses within 12 months. People may not know the cost of plants but they know the cost of delivery and that becomes the known-value item, and you're suddenly looking expensive for your plants if you're charging £6 for delivery."
He added: "The opportunity lies with the specialist grower of unusual plants. You get a market around the world and people are not price-sensitive and don't mind £20 for delivery because it's the only place they're going to get that plant. But with broad range to compete with the garden centre, price and cost of delivery is key."