Business tips

How to cultivate a personal touch in online retailing: Plants 4 Perth

Perth-based online nursery business Plants 4 Perth explains how personalised delivery and getting involved in local events has helped the e-commerce business to grow.

Establishing face-to-face relationships with customers and engaging with your community is just as important for an e-commerce business as it is for a bricks-and-mortar outlet, believes one Perth-based online entrepreneur.

Harlen Henderson established his online nursery business, Plants 4 Perth, in 2008. “I started the business with my mum, who is my business partner,” he says. “It arose because of our personal needs – I previously worked at American Express in Sydney and I was really busy. I was also a garden lover, but was not an expert, and I wanted to go online and shop for plants easily.”

Henderson says no other nursery was selling plants online in Perth and he saw the opportunity to fill a gap.

How Plants 4 Perth gets face to face with customers

Today, Plants 4 Perth sells a wide range of plants, trees and gardening supplies and accessories. The nature of its products means the business only serves Perth and the south-west of Western Australia, with all products being delivered using its own vehicles.

Henderson says the personal connection that Plants 4 Perth’s drivers establish with customers has been a vital component in its success.

“People really like the face-to-face element and interaction from our drivers,” he says. “Customers like to see the people behind the business – especially when it is an e-commerce business.

Plants 4 Perth is committed to supporting and participating in local and community events, such as a recent horticultural event at Perth Zoo. “Those types of events allow us to get out of the internet and to get into the real world,” says Henderson.

He adds that while Plants 4 Perth will remain an online business, it has plans to do some pop-up nurseries later this year. “We are looking at selling a very small range of cool gift plants and really engaging with customers,” he says.

How to sell plants online

While establishing a personal relationship with customers at events is one way that has helped Plants 4 Perth to grow, Henderson says a lot of time and energy has also gone into developing its website, to make customers more comfortable about buying a live product online.

“Initially, there was a reluctance from customers to purchase plants online – they felt that they couldn’t see the quality online, despite us having many different images and a quality guarantee,” explains Henderson.

“Often we found that customers would initially test us with small orders and then gradually build them up. We now have many repeat customers and they spend thousands of dollars.”

Building up customer trust involved putting a lot of thought and effort into writing product descriptions and improving the website’s imagery. “We have established relationships with plant suppliers and that really helps with getting good, accurate images,” says Henderson.

Switching e-commerce platforms

On the technical side of things, Plants 4 Perth’s website is currently being redeveloped, which will see it moving from an Adobe Business Catalyst platform to a WordPress platform from November 2014.

One thing that won’t be changing is Plants 4 Perth’s payment gateway. “We have been with SecurePay from day one and it has been very easy – it just works smoothly in the background,” says Henderson.

Establishing a personal connection with customers is equally important via the online nursery’s social media channels. It has 1,300 Facebook followers, with a high level of engagement.

“We really engage and interact with our customers,” says Henderson. “It isn’t just about sales – it’s about everyday events and life in Perth.”

Top tips for growing a personal customer approach

Do you own an e-commerce business and want to establish a more personal connection with your customers? Here are Plants 4 Perth’s top tips:

1. Delivery: If you are a local business, think about how you can personalise the delivery experience for your customers. Could you justify operating your own branded delivery vehicle?

2. Local exposure: Get involved in community or local school events, where you can showcase your products.

3. Be socially minded: Use your business’s social media channels to engage customers about more than just sales or specials.

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