Embrace technology or risk being left behind, tech experts and retail consultants have warned garden centres. Recent technological advances have shown how quickly garden centres can stand out from others as the place where visitors can: (1) instantly find the plant information they want; (2) rely on every member of staff to be highly informed; (3) find out about and order plants online beforehand using "click and collect"; and (4) share information about plants they like with friends, bringing more traffic to stores.
QR codes are like barcodes that can be scanned by simply pointing a smartphone, such as an iPhone, BlackBerry or Android, over the QR symbol. The phone should have a QR reader installed — these can be downloaded for free from the phone's app store. When the code is scanned, users are usually taken to a predefined web address, which means the customer receives more information than would be available through point of sale.
Rise of the smartphone
Accountancy firm Deloitte has reported that smartphones influenced 10 per cent of in-store retail purchases in December 2012, while £330m of sales were made directly on smartphones and a further £500m via tablet devices.
Some £3.2bn of in-store sales were influenced by smartphones, as consumers used the devices to research prices, store Christmas shopping lists and engage with friends or family via social media. Smartphones are even taking over from PCs for internet browsing, with a quarter of Americans saying they use their phone rather than their home computer to go online.
Future Foundation/nVision research shows that smartphones and apps are increasingly being used by those aged 35 and above. More than half of British adults aged 35-44 own a smartphone and use apps, while nine per cent of those in the 65 and older group use the technology. It is estimated that these numbers will continue to rise by 30 per cent over the next five years.
And now suppliers to garden centres are embracing the technology. Delamore marketing manager Adam Parry says QR codes have been useful in promoting its Garden Buddies range. "Since our launch of Garden Buddies last year, and as a part of the wider business plan for the company, QR scanners have become a fundamental and emerging feature of the marketing and product development remit and objectives," he says.
"Although we don't use the QR codes to specifically sell our products, we have seen a fantastic take-up of consumers using their smartphone applications to scan our codes and visit our website. Our website analytic breakdown for 2012 shows some really promising statistics of mobile phones accessing our website, which we believe has definitely been influenced by the QR codes on all our point-of-sale material.
"I also think the QR technology is fantastic for engaging the younger generation with horticulture. This generation is globalised by technology and we've actively tried to use tools such as QR scanners and so on to engage them, while at the same time retaining an offer that appeals to the more experienced generations. Over the next few months, we hope to develop our QR code system further — for example, on labels with codes linking directly to growing advice on our specific products."
From independent research, Suttons Seeds found that the majority of gardeners, both novice and experienced, wanted more information on what, how, when and where to grow. It produced growing guide leaflets and a series of short videos to show customers why a particular product was perfect for their needs. And it has used QR codes in its For Your Space seed range. Each of the mini-
collections' point-of-sale card includes a QR code that links to a video relevant to each section, such as windowsill gardening, patio gardening, window-box gardening and square-metre gardening. These give guidance on which varieties to choose, sowing seeds, potting on and harvesting.
Suttons' QR codes are also included in the consumer-focused Retail Gardening Guide and link to various video growing guides — and its James Wong Homegrown Revolution seed range carries a QR code on the point-of-sale card that links through to a teaser video.
Grower Bransford Webbs launched QR codes for its bespoke labels at the beginning of 2012 and updated the links last month. All bespoke labels carry a QR code on the reverse that links to the plant's specific profile at www.bransfordwebbs.co.uk. These offer growers' tips, planting suggestions, history and basic information required for making a purchase or a growing decision.
Managing director Geoff Caesar says: "We did have the links pointed at the website, but people were really looking for information about the plant. The technology for creating them and pointing to the right place has moved on so we were able to improve them."
Roger Atkinson, owner of grower Atkiro, says QR codes can benefit garden centres by providing plant knowledge their staff might not have. Atkiro uses information from Joy of Plants, which licenses a database of UK plant information, containing photos and descriptions for 7,500 UK plants.
The information can appear as a plant finder incorporated into a garden centre website so potential customers can find plants that meet their exact specification — searching for this data by leaf or flower colour, size, shape, season, soil, shade, plant care, and more.
Co-owner Terri Jones says the information helps buying confidence and involves simply adding some code to the garden centre's website.
Scotsdales and Longacre are high-profile centres that also use the system. Longacre IT manager Michael Ainley says: "QR codes give our customers access to the best plant information there is. We have asked all our suppliers to put the Joy of Plants information codes onto their labels."
Consultant John Connel says: "New technology should be part of an overall strategy to enhance the consumers' shopping experience both online and in-store. It should not just be treated as a quick fix to compensate for poor ranging, merchandising and customer service. Rather, it should be treated as an integral part of the customers' journey, leading them to and through your store."
He adds that garden centre staff need to be trained to ensure they can put the new technology to effective use on the shop floor. This will involve re-focusing their merchandising and selling skills, so that customers have the same level of confidence and motivation in the store as they had when researching and buying products on the web.
Connel says: "Used correctly, new technology can help staff become more productive, knowledgeable and confident, but they will need help on how to drive it and put it to use in front of their customers in an engaging way. Too often, the benefit new technology offers breaks down at the coal face when the customer enters the physical store and attempts to shop for the materials to help complete their project. This is where some joined-up thinking really comes into play."