Flower Power, By George!

I am a big believer in the power of fresh flowers. Being married to a woman who loves color and beauty, I’ve made it a practice to bestow flowers on my bride for any or sometimes no reason other than to brighten up our surroundings. In years past, flowers even provided a peace offering to get me out of trouble (luckily infrequently!).

When she worked as a school librarian, I got great pleasure sending Bonnie flowers at school so everyone could enjoy them. The kids loved to see what colorful arrangement would appear next on the library counter. Spouses of her colleagues would tell me I was making their lives tougher by raising the bar of expectations!

I’m democratic about where I buy flowers. When I want a formal arrangement made up and delivered, I order from the local florist for local needs or an 800 or online service for long distance. Hotel concierges love to help arrange surprise greetings. I’ve also picked up an attractive bunch that catches my eye while grocery shopping to simply brighten up our home.

According to Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) latest consumer research, my buying habits, though likely much more frequent than average, are fairly representative of most floral consumers — and that suggests opportunities for floral marketers at supermarkets and club stores to expand their business.

Our latest telephone survey of 1,000 primary shoppers explored perceptions about floral purchases from traditional florists, supermarkets and other mass retail outlets such as club stores. Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the survey in late May.

The consumers we surveyed told us they are just about as likely to buy flowers from a supermarket as from a florist. Thirty-eight percent buy flowers from supermarkets, 34 percent from local florists, 4 percent from online florists and 5 percent from club stores; 7 percent shop a mix of all these venues.

Purchasers of flowers from supermarkets and other retail outlets tend to be frequent as well as impulse buyers. Twenty-two percent of respondents buy flowers from such outlets at least once a month and 36 percent once every three months. Of these frequent purchasers, 29 percent buy their flowers at supermarkets at least once a month.

Of the surveyed consumers who buy flowers at supermarkets or club stores, 61 percent report spur-of-the-moment purchases — they see a beautiful bunch of flowers and buy it on the spot. They are also frequent purchasers; 37 percent make these unplanned purchases once a month or more, and 35 percent about once every three months.

That supermarket and club store flower customers are both frequent and impulse purchasers are good news for mass market retailers and suggest the low-hanging sales fruit lies in expanding those impulse purchases.

However, these retailers also have two very large hurdles in consumer perception to overcome, according to our survey.

First, there is a clear distinction in surveyed consumers’ minds regarding the freshness of flowers from florists versus supermarkets. Forty-five percent stated they are “very satisfied” with the freshness of florists’ flowers, almost double those who reported they are very satisfied with the freshness of flowers they buy from supermarkets (26 percent).

In addition to this perceived freshness gap, our data indicate that when buying flowers for special occasions, consumers also draw a clear distinction between florists and supermarkets or club stores. For the traditional flower-giving occasions — anniversaries, gifts, get well, congratulations and other general occasions — our surveyed consumers prefer to buy flowers from florists for five of eight occasions. Supermarkets and club stores, on the other hand, are the preferred sources for flowers that will be enjoyed at home, at work, and on more casual occasions.

There are a number of ways supermarket retailers can address consumers’ perceptions in order to boost their image and encourage more sales. Starting with the basics, in-store and on-pack signage can offer tips to consumers on how to maximize the lifespan of their impulse-purchase flowers once they get them home — while simultaneously communicating retailers’ commitment to freshness and quality. Bundling flower-food packets with every sale can extend flower life, too.

Borrowing a page from coffee marketers, frequent flower shopper cards could award a free bouquet after a certain number of purchases. Retailers can also examine opportunities to expand their special occasion arrangements business if their business model can support it.

And, of course, associate training is vital to ensure flowers are properly handled before the sale and to enhance customer service. PMA’s floral program staff and council are working to offer research, products, and services to help retailers expand floral operations.

How important is the presence of expert floral staff in a supermarket? Well, I used to order wonderful custom arrangements from our local supermarket because of George, the brilliant arranger who managed the floral department. George retired and his replacement lacks flair and personality. Now I get custom arrangements elsewhere. Yes, this is what’s known in research as a “one-rat study” — with me being the “rat” — but the dollars switched are not insignificant and this tale is probably not unique.

This latest survey lays out opportunities to expand retail floral sales. When consumers carry more colorful flowers out of the store more often, it means more green in floral department cash registers — and rosier reports of customer satisfaction like mine because of folks like George.