16 Nov 2020

Online flower sales blooming since Covid-19 lockdowns

From Checkpoint, 5:43 pm on 16 November 2020

One New Zealand business, steeped in tradition, is blooming after Covid-19 forced it to grow its online presence.

Flower markets are usually an up-close sensory experience at crack of dawn auctions, but lockdown saw one flower marketplace ramp up development of livestreamed auctions so buyers can view, bid and buy from around the country without leaving the house.  

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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

The United Flower Growers auctions in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch sell more than 50 million stems and bouquets a year. Since Covid-19, 40 percent of those sales are virtual.

"Where we're quite different to other parts of the world that do auctions is that we livestream," chief executive Tony Hayes told Checkpoint.

"As we're processing each bucket or box on each trolley as it goes through the origin, we physically take a sample stem, or a sample bunch out of the box, and put that head quite close to the camera.  

"Those buyers online can see through that camera, the quality of the head, the quality of the petals, the actual colour, so that they can buy with some assurance. So effectively what we're trying to do is give the cloud buyers the same or similar experience to those that are on site," he said.

About 40 percent of the United Flower Growers' customers are buying online, Hayes said.

"What we're finding now is that there's a high degree of comfort around our cloud platform now, given the fact that the industry was forced to choose to use that at a time that was difficult for everybody."

Some would argue part of the charm of a flower market is stopping to smell the roses, but Hayes said even without that sensory experience, online users can still judge quality on the livestream the same as customers can when viewing flowers onsite.

"Our principle is to make sure that they get the same quality, irrespective. So it's down to us to perform that task.

"When it comes to the colour and the smell, of course being online you don't get to be as close to the products as you would do at an auction, but remember we're not forcing people to buy online, they do that through choice. So I would suspect that somewhere in the mix of that decision psyche is the fact that they're comfortable with the quality and what they come to expect from our growers."

Hayes said how long a bunch would last depended upon the flower. 

"You want a few days if not weeks. But that's down to us to actually vase test, which we do on a fairly frequent basis, because we want to make sure the product that's supplied to market does actually hold up."

And a favourite flower?

"There's nothing like a rose," Hayes said. "But close behind that I actually like tulips, even though they're just out of season now."