1-800-Flowers makes sure deliveries — and memories — are made

Enhanced tech capabilities like augmented reality and virtual assistants help customers shop

Add Mother’s Day to the ever-growing list of 2020 events that will look a little different than in years past. But that’s no excuse to skip the gift-giving — and NRF research shows that most don’t plan to do that. In fact, it may be a reason to up the extravagance.

“It’s almost as if, with the pandemic going on, people want to make these events as special as they can, and they’re more meaningful,” says Katherine Cullen, NRF’s senior director of industry and consumer insights. Research for Easter showed the same trend, she says: “You can’t celebrate how you used to. People are looking to create a sense of normalcy any way they can.”

That means traditional Mother’s Day gifts — like flowers — might be even more expected this year. 1-800-Flowers.com is ready to meet the demand.

“We value the important role we play in helping people stay connected with others, especially during this unprecedented time,” says Amit Shah, chief marketing officer for the company. “We know this will be a very different Mother’s Day for everyone and we have plans underway to help customers honor Mom in a special way, even if they cannot be together.”

Focused on innovation

Mother’s Day is like the Super Bowl for 1-800-Flowers — last year, it delivered more than 20 million stems, making it the company’s largest floral occasion. This year, in response to the pandemic, 1-800-Flowers has introduced contactless delivery for orders filled by local florists. “We are also offering more products to be direct-shipped to our customer’s door fresh from the farm,” Shah says.

While Mother’s Day 2020 is pushing the ecommerce gift provider to try new things, the company has been in a season of experimentation and growth, adding new features like 3D and augmented reality, expanded payment options and an updated mobile and desktop experience to help consumers shop.

ecards from 1-800-Flowers

Such a heavy investment in high tech might seem a disconnect for something as traditional as floral gifts, but Shah says experimentation is deep in 1-800-Flowers’ roots: The company pioneered the use of 800 numbers in the 1970s.

“We’ve always been an early adopter of emerging technologies,” Shah says. “We know that technology drives consumer behavior, so we keep a close watch on how new innovations can help us better connect and engage with our customers.”

It’s deeply ingrained in the company culture. The team balances their own skills with outside technology providers to create the perfect arrangement. “Ensuring you have an agile, innovation-focused team in place to push new tools and features from conception to completion, and continue enhancing them regularly, is extremely important,” he says.

“Relying on and continuing to invest in our own internal capabilities, plus identifying the very best external partners to help us stay at the forefront of the fast pace of technological advancements, is how we’ve maintained a reputation of constant innovation.”

Cutting-edge tools

While many retailers struggle with reasonable applications for 3D and augmented reality, 1-800-Flowers has settled upon a couple of uses. The 3D application enhances photos on the website while the AR tool allows customers to use their mobile device to envision how that arrangement will look on that table.

“This sophisticated tool allows our customers to better visualize detailed aspects of our products even when shopping online, helping them ensure they’re choosing the perfect arrangement for their recipient,” Shah says.

The Intelligent Virtual Assistant tool allows callers to “solve self-service queries 24/7,” Shah says. “This takes the burden off our local florists by making it easier for shoppers to track and modify their orders through the IVA. Additionally, as our IVA handles these common and simple requests, our human agents are freed up to handle more complex queries.”

IVA also is used to route callers, making for a shorter time to reach an agent. “The IVA also learns with each interaction so it can provide an increasingly personalized experience to returning callers over time,” Shah says.

Enhanced web

The recent upgrades also touched the two primary ways consumers shop — via desktop and mobile. With a mobile device, customers can not only see products using AR, but also complete the purchase process more quickly. The company also redesigned the mobile app to incorporate streamlined purchasing through one-tap buying, tailored notifications and product suggestions, along with its Gift Finder tool that allows customers to shop across its family of brands including Cheryl’s Cookies, Harry & David, Moose Munch and the Popcorn Factory.

Shah says mobile is expected to account for about 45 percent of revenues and 65 percent of traffic for Mother’s Day 2020.

Popular payment wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay can be used for things like the 1-800-Flowers Bloom of the Month Club, while Venmo joins payment methods like PayPal, Visa Checkout and Chase Pay, available for all mobile web transactions.

“We strive to meet customers where they’re going next, which is why we’ve been early adopters of game-changing technology over the years, like the 800 number, online shopping, mobile and, most recently, conversational commerce,” Shah says.

“This long-time approach has continued to resonate with our shoppers, especially now as more and more consumers shop on-the-go. We’ve added several other enhancements to our mobile experience and, while these integrations are quite recent, we see engagement increasing on this channel.”

The desktop experience was not left behind. either: “Desktop shoppers can engage with others and spread joy by sending complimentary and customizable e-cards,” Shah says, which come in a variety of themed layouts.

Singular focus

Shah says the technology tools and upgraded websites were all deployed with a single aim: to find the tricky balance between customer ease and the need to be known. “It is no surprise that in today’s digital world, consumers expect ease and convenience in every aspect of the shopping process,” he says.

“However, they also crave personalization. Consumers want to be recognized as an individual throughout the shopping experience, with offers, products and services tailored to their particular needs.”

That means reminders of important events (no excuses to miss a special birthday or anniversary) and even suggestions for those gifts.

Today’s environment has only enhanced the need for flexibility in plans. But consumers still say they’ll celebrate Mother’s Day, with 86 percent saying they’ll find a way to honor Mom, according to NRF research. Two-thirds say it’s likely that they’ll do something virtual. The average spend per person is $205, Cullen says, up from $196 in 2019. Flowers continue to rank just behind cards — with 64 percent saying they’ll send something floral for the holiday, Cullen says.

While local florists in some locations may not be able to open, or might work under extreme limitations, 1-800-Flowers is there to make sure the deliveries are made along with the memories.

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