Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Online florist and gifting service NetFlorist was launched in 1999, at a time when online retail was still in its infancy. The business managed to avoid the dot-com bust of 2002 because it had already translated its vision into profitable sales, something most online start-ups had not managed to achieve. The business then made the transition from Internet start-up to online retailer.

Managing director Ryan Bacher views the business as more of a retailer than an e-commerce operation. Consumers today expect innovation from the brands with which they engage – both in terms of product and technology – which is why NetFlorist has invested a great deal of time and money in both.

NetFlorist is divided into two divisions: operations and sales. From a sales perspective, says Bacher, the challenge is always to entice new customers while getting existing customers to increase the frequency of their purchases. From an operational perspective, the challenges are mostly logistical. NetFlorist recently stretched its capabilities by extending its same-day offering to 4 pm – extending the previous 12 noon cut-off time. Orders placed by 4 pm are now delivered on the same day.

Though the new service comes with its own operational challenges, it has worked well in terms of providing consumers with what they need in this space – an online retailer that caters to last-minute requirements. The proof is already evidenced in higher conversion rates (the amount of people who visit the site, versus the amount of people who make a purchase), particularly between 1 pm and 4 pm, says Bacher.  

Personalisation, he says, is a widespread trend as consumers demand more than just a gift but rather something that is personal and unique. NetFlorist has embraced this trend by insourcing the machinery and manpower required to engrave and personalise its gifts. “It’s a big investment but allows for a quicker turn-around,” says Bacher.

In an effort to be more innovative with its floral arrangements, the retailer is making a concerted effort to bring something different to the South African market – for example, a range of roses grown in Colombia in an array of colours that we don’t see locally.

Technological innovation in the online space is key, particularly when it comes to making the purchasing process easier for consumers. Bacher recently returned from a trip to Silicon Valley. His big take-out: innovation is about smart people using technology to solve existing problems. In line with this idea, NetFlorist has developed and launched SharePay – a world first in the gifting space. SharePay allows a group of people to select a gift online, calculates the amount each person owes based on how many people are contributing and ensures the gift only goes live once all parties have paid, taking the awkwardness out of group buying.

Ultimately, Bacher says, the team iterates ideas they find overseas to see what will work best in a South African context. Travelling to other markets to bring innovations back to SA is a fundamental way in which NetFlorist ensures that as the world grows smaller thanks to the digital era, South African consumers have access to cutting-edge global trends.

The big take-out: Investing in innovation around product and technology is key to running a successful online retailer.

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