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How online florists stand out from the crowd

Certain retail categories tend to get a boost from certain holidays. Easter is particularly good for chocolate-makers and FMCG more broadly, while a holiday like Australia Day focuses far more on the liquor and food categories.

Valentine’s Day has historically been a boom time for florists.

However, according to research firm IBISWorld, even a day of love and support is not immune to the realities of the modern day retail environment, with senior industry analyst James Thompson expecting to see sluggish growth over the period due to weak consumer sentiment and slow wage growth.

“Valentine’s Day spending has grown over the past five years, and over the period we have seen a shift from traditional gifts towards experiences, with greater spending on restaurants, travel and accommodation,” Thompson tells IRW.

“Over this period, florists, chocolate and jewellery retailers tend to experience a solid boost to sales, while hospitality operators benefit as more couples go out for romantic dinners.”

According to Thompson, an increasing share of Valentine’s Day spend will be made online, putting online florists such as Petal Post in an advantageous position moving forward.

“It’s one of the biggest trading period of the year for us,” Petal Post founder Zoe Lamont tells IRW.

“For the last few years, we’ve done beautiful, locally grown pastel roses to symbolise friendship, admiration and gratitude.”

The online retailer has been in business for a little over four years, and each Valentine’s Day has purposely stayed away from the cliche of the red rose in lieu of providing customers with something a little different.

“We’re reaching out to people and saying, ‘Hey, it’s not just the typical boyfriend buying for the girlfriend. You might have a best mate, or your mum, or whoever you want to show that gratitude for’,” Lamont explains.

“We see same-sex couples, and daughters buying for mums – it’s no longer just the traditional man-buys-for-woman.”

Beyond the red rose

Lamont remembers identifying a gap in the market around four years ago – something for those who truly appreciate flowers.

“You had your traditional florist, you had event florists, you had supermarket florists. I wanted to create something that filled that gap,” Lamont says.

While researching potential competitors, Lamont realised if her business was simply to serve as another flower delivery company it was likely to fold.

“I looked at the different delivery methods and [found] the box concept, which led me through what the product is today,” Lamont says.

The Petal Post business model sees customers order a box of flowers which they arrange themselves, allowing the recipient to get creative with how they wish to display their bouquets, as well as lowering the chance of a purposefully crafted bouquet getting crushed in transit.

The brand provides information on the flowers in the box, styling tips, as well as a video tutorial to help the process along, but ultimately the system allows customers to take the opportunity to express themselves a little more than others in the marketplace allow.

This is facilitated in two ways: a one-off gift purchase, or a subscription service. Lamont initially believed the subscription service would be the backbone of the business, with one-offs serving as a secondary source of income, but as the brand matured the percentage of sales has fallen somewhere in the realm of 50/50.

“[We’ve seen] great growth in the one-off gifts… so we’re kind of focusing on that, looking at how to increase of offer of single deliveries,” Lamont says.

The e-commerce retailer currently provides a weekly bouquet of fresh flowers, locally sourced and purchased to order to minimise wastage, but which do not provide much of an option if a customer isn’t feeling the particular selection.

“As it is now, we’re just doing one weekly selection as a gift, so if someone lands on the website and [doesn’t like the selection], they might go somewhere else,” Lamont explains.

“We’re working on having more than one offering; introducing three different boxes so that people can choose… We don’t want to overcomplicate it with hundreds of choices. We’ll keep it simple so people are drawn to one, and it’s still an easy decision to make.”

Flowers in the cloud

The ability to rapidly shift the Petal Post model can be attributed largely to the fact that the business is run entirely online, a shift the floristry industry is seeing more broadly, with competitors Daily Bloom and Willow and Bear increasingly focusing online.

“[We have] no bricks-and-mortar store, so that obviously helps us in the business sense, in that it keeps overheads down,” Lamont says.

“These days, more and more people are relying on online, whether it be to research or to make their final purchase. With the platforms available, like Instagram and Facebook, customers can really build that trust even if they’re not sitting inside a store.”

Instagram, in particular, lends itself well to the business, Lamont explains, in that the visual nature of floristry can captivate a like-minded audience.

“Instagram itself is developing more and more, so now you can list your products and prices on there – it’s quite a sophisticated tool,” Lamont says.

“Obviously, telling the stories and having video builds that trust to help the customer to finally make that purchase.”

Having started out as an e-commerce-focused business, and having stuck to that, Petal Post has seen organic sales growth of roughly 200 per cent a year, for four years, as well as the organic growth of customer loyalty, without having a large initial cost of setting up a physical location – a boon in an era where retail rents are notoriously high and sales are notoriously thin.

Given the impermanent nature of its product, Petal Post sees “loads” of repeat customers through both its subscription model and its one-off gifting model.

“We get people coming back all the time. Maybe it’s every year to buy for Valentine’s Day, or Mother’s Day, or it might be a corporate option for them; they might be buying for their staff,” Lamont said.

Part of this is the authenticity of the brand message; one of locally supplied, made-to-order bouquets of flowers, delivered in specially made recyclable and sustainable packaging.

“That resonates with so many people that gravitate towards our business, and want to know more and try us out.”

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