1-800-Flowers CMO on how to fertilize connections as consumer needs change

Like many businesses across the nation, 1-800-Flowers saw sales wither as the coronavirus pandemic started to take hold in early March. However, this pattern has since reversed itself as customers are adapting to a new reality and sending gifts to connect with others while they remain at home.

With limitations on gatherings for sympathy occasions, such as wakes and funerals, and restrictions on deliveries to hospitals for get well occasions, consumer demand for floral gifts softened in March. Despite the downturn towards the end of the first quarter, 1-800-Flowers reported flower sales increased 5.4% overall for the period. And the slowdown was short-lived, with consumer demand blooming two-thirds of the way through the current quarter.

“Everyday occasions, which have always been the biggest part of our floral business, have taken on new meaning — as people want to reach out to celebrate birthdays, new babies, anniversaries and more from afar — not wanting the recipient to celebrate the occasion alone,” Amit Shah, chief marketing officer at 1-800-Flowers.com, told Marketing Dive.

Mother’s Day falling as some states began to open for business helped as 1-800-Flowers delivered approximately 21 million stems and 200,000 plants during the holiday period. The National Retail Federation projected in advance of Mother’s Day that it expected flower sales for the holiday to increase from $2.01 billion in 2019 to $2.1 billion this year.

Content connections

With a legacy in direct marketing, 1-800-Flowers is known for promotional emails and coupon code offers. However, recognizing that consumers are living through a period of enormous grief and loss, the e-commerce retailer decided it needed a more subtle marketing strategy during the pandemic and turned to supportive content as a way to show up for people during this period.

In this vein, 1-800-Flowers recently launched a new online community, called Connection Communities​, designed to help people find support during difficult times. The peer-to-peer support portal is powered by Wisdo, an app that helps guide people through meaningful life events by connecting them with others who have walked the same path.

A feeling of disconnection is a growing issue that preceded the current health crisis and one that 1-800-Flowers, as a company whose vision is to inspire human expression, connection and celebration, believes it can help address, Shah said. Two in five Americans say they sometimes or always feel their relationships are not meaningful and that they are isolated from others, according to a report from Cigna. Additionally, loneliness in Americans rose 7% from 2018 to 2019 due to lack of social support and too few important social interactions, a separate Cigna report found. Such emotions could be exacerbated during the COVID-19 era when people are physically cut off from one another.

“We find these emerging societal trends alarming and believe we have a responsibility to help people reconnect in meaningful ways,” Shah said of the Connection Communities initiative. “This is one of the ways we are providing our customers with opportunities to connect with each other — and our brand — beyond the transactional process. We’ll continue to create differentiated content and rich experiences and resources to provide our customers with unique brand experiences.”

Visitors to the site have complimentary access to eight peer-to-peer support communities including relationship advice, motherhood, caregiving, coping with loss, loneliness, coronavirus-related anxiety, strategies to boost happiness and practicing self-care. People can take part in group discussions and connect with others in these forums.

Separately, the flower retailer has also been curating free resources to help customers navigate difficult sympathy situations, providing how-to content with tips on proper flower and plant care, as well as offering complimentary digital cards to send with gifts.

In addition, the brand has been sending notes to customers to check in on them and sharing tips for staying connected with friends, family and co-workers during the pandemic.

“Our business is about helping people connect, so it is important that we engage with our customers and offer them support — whether it is recommending DIY projects to do with the kids or suggesting activities they can do at home while in quarantine,” said Shah.

As consumers continue to celebrate events virtually, 1-800-Flowers wants to be involved. The company is currently developing ways for customers to virtually connect for graduation, Father’s Day and the Fourth of July with content on how to host a virtual celebration. Consumers can download free Zoom backgrounds, and check out ideas for homemade décor via the company’s PetalTalk blog.

“We value the important role we are playing in helping people stay connected with others during this unprecedented time,” Shah said. “As we come out of this crisis, we believe people will place a greater importance on connecting with others and expressing themselves — and we are well-positioned to help our customers build meaningful connections.”

Post lockdown

With the coronavirus pandemic driving further growth for areas like e-commerce and mobile commerce, 1-800-Flowers is doubling down on its digital presence in order to stay relevant as online connections become even more important.

Expect to see the brand continue its momentum in customer engagement and loyal relationship strategies to build through its content marketing strategy, Shah said.

“As we move forward, brands will need to refocus on their purpose and be authentic in the experience they build for customers which, for us, is all about inspiring more human expression, connection and celebration,” he stated.

Additional changes to the business could also be coming as a result of how the unprecedented health crisis has impacted so many aspects of American society. As the country starts to reopen, 1-800-Flowers is analyzing and reviewing every aspect of the business, including supply chain, product design, delivery methods, delivery windows and marketing. The company expects its go-to-market strategy to evolve with new and emerging channels taking on increased importance in the brand’s overall marketing mix.

“Things may look very different for everyone moving forward and we will be looking for the best ways to help customers as they seek to express, connect and celebrate with the important people in their lives,” Shah said.

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