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20090324 Budding opportunity blossoms

Published on 24 Mar 2009

20090324 Budding opportunity blossoms

Published on 24 Mar 2009

20090324 Budding opportunity blossoms

By Robyn Cohen - When NetFlorist was just a bud on the South African highway a decade ago, just 36 Valentine's Day bouquets were ordered from the website. This year, 7 500 bouquets and gifts were ordered from the site.

The NetFlorist website wasn't really a start-up; it was a slap-dash virtual mock-up, hatched by NetActive, an early internet service provider as part of a pitch to retailer Makro, explained NetFlorist's Sue Morris. The website was designed to demonstrate how e-tailing could work. They plonked on flowers and tossed in so-called "male gifts" like biltong, dried fruit and nuts.

Makro, however, was not convinced and did not sign up.

NetFlorist's future looked bleak, but orders for bouquets kept coming in a steady stream. Soon, NetFlorist bought TeleFlorist, a network of florists which processed orders for flowers and gifts from around the country. They arranged with one of their network of florists to deliver the orders.

Within the first flush of shopping activity, NetFlorist realised that beyond sourcing product, its business was about distribution - getting product out effectively, speedily and reasonably priced, said Morris.

They took the brick-and-mortar TeleFlorist to another dimension and added online shopping. The option of ordering through a call centre remains, 10 years later with about 20 percent of customers ordering by phone.

"In the early days, most of the online shoppers were men. That was true the world over," says Morris.

And then women discovered online retail therapy. Within five years they accounted for 50 percent of NetFlorist's customers.

However, they wanted more. How about a nice vase, or a little necklace to go with the Mother's Day flowers? Or chocolates with the roses for the new bride?

Currently the ratio is 60:40 of female to male shoppers.

Have problems remembering the wedding anniversary or remembering your PA's birthday? No worries. Before big events, NetFlorist asks customers if they would like reminders for the next Women's Day, Valentine's Day, Easter, Passover, whatever.

Along the way, NetFlorist considered the spending habits of their database. How many times are you going to send flowers? A few times a year, maybe.

"You are not going to do it every week - unless you are in deep trouble," said Morris. "You buy more gifts than flowers."

Although gifts were always part of their mix, with more women shopping online, biltong and nuts were not making the cut. In the early years, NetFlorist outsourced the gifts in a joint venture with another business. The result was not great, said Morris.

"We now own most of our distribution and deliver to 70 percent of the Greater Joburg area out of our Joburg warehouse," said Morris of the website's gift service.

It is working to achieving the same in the rest of the country.

This allows it to carry out its online undertaking: same-day delivery of flowers - if the order is placed before noon. There is a R40 delivery charge for flowers and R55 for gifts. Gift delivery lead time varies, depending on the area. Customers want instant gratification. You remember that it is your friend's birthday at 9am and you want the gift delivered that day.

The website has an inventory which includes gifts for season and occasion. There are housewarming gifts, graduation gifts, coming-of-age gifts. Search by category and price and all sorts of things start popping up: watches, crystal jewellery, Charlotte Rhys lotions and potions, gourmet foods, artisan nougat, power tools.

Soon, there will be more to choose from: electronic toys such as iPods, Nintendo DS hand-held consoles and starter games and Nintendo Wii will be added.

This article appeared in the Cape Times on March 24, 2009

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