Online retailer Ready Flowers first entered the Asia market in 2007, with an immediate goal to establish their brand specialising in flowers and gifts in Hong Kong and Greater China. The e-retailer knew how to capture market share and drive relevant shoppers to its website. In the past few years, Ready Flowers has already experienced an annual growth rate of 30-50 percent. Thomas Hegarty, Founder and Managing Director of Ready Flowers, tells Retail in Asia the secret of the company’s success. He also reveals his e-commerce top tips in this interview.
RIA: Ready Flowers first entered the Asia market in 2007 and over the past few years, the company has experienced outstanding growth. What is driving the growth? What is the key for your success?
Thomas Hegarty (TH): As the Ready Flowers business is targeted towards gift buyers who are geographically removed from their loved ones, a major key to our success is the ability to deliver flowers and gifts quickly anywhere in the region. The combination of automated technology, not having to setup our own physical presence in the regions we serve and a supply chain of over 4,000 suppliers that have an ability to deliver to customers same day are key to our success. We are unique in that we have our own exclusive network throughout the region which means our customers only need one point of contact to send flowers and gifts to friends and loved ones without having to contact suppliers directly. The automation technology that we have built facilitates a sophisticated supply chain and the ability to "Just in Time" deliver and manufacture flower bouquets which makes the process of sending gifts extremely fast, and this is why around 40 percent of our customers on any day are repeat shoppers.
Our largest target markets in the broader Asia region currently comprises Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the Philippines. However, we have the ability to deliver into 90 countries around the world and now that we have bedded down the technology we are starting to scale up other markets which would otherwise be really difficult and costly to supply if we had to have a physical presence in those areas.
RIA: How important do you see "website traffic" for your business? Why?
TH: As over 90 percent of orders come through the Ready Flowers network of websites, website traffic is extremely important, without it there is no business. However, volume isn’t the only consideration when it comes to traffic, the quality of traffic received is also very important. Having a balanced Search Engine Marketing mix is key to success and making sure that you have a good mix of display advertising with search advertising is critical.
RIA: How do you advertise and drive your target shoppers to your website? Can you share your top secrets to success with us?
TH: Success in the online world always comes back to how much you understand your customers. If you don’t, then you can waste a lot of money very quickly with no return.
Through partnering with companies such as Google and Facebook, we have built up an extensive list of search keywords numbering in the millions which has drastically improved our online exposure among target customers and helped build the brand throughout Asia. With such a number of touch points for our customers, managing the volume of information becomes overwhelming and that is why we have developed a number of in-house monitoring systems coupled with numerous outsourced systems such as Google Analytics, Chartbeat and Clicktale. With a strong emphasis on monitoring and analytical tools we have been able to hone what our customers really want and refine our offerings to better cater for our customer demographics. In addition to this, specific shoppers who are "in the mood" to shop are also micro-targeted using new cutting edge tools such as Google remarketing.
Overall, market intelligence from our various analytical systems has been highly successful and helped us grow rapidly throughout Asia without having to invest large amounts of capital to grow.
However, being in the technology space, having the ability to move with technology trends is also a major factor. For example, through Google, we use a range of targeted landing pages that we are always testing and changing, to maintain the highest possible conversion rate for each market. Using this method, we have been able to maintain a conversion rate of 10-15 percent which is well above the industry standard.
RIA: What kind of market information do you need for your business plan? How do you gather and analyse this market information online?
TH: Having a brand like Ready Flowers, it is easy to confuse us as a florist, however we consider ourselves a technology company whose medium is flowers and gifts. With a strong focus on technology and using that technology to improve the overall experience for our customers and better understand our customers, we have been able to grow really quickly across a number of markets.
Now that we have experience in launching in a number of different markets around the world, we have a good template for launching in a new country with reasonable expectation for success. When we launch in a new market, the risk compared to a traditional bricks and mortar business is significantly lower due to the fact that we do not need to invest heavily in capital equipment to get up and running. There is a marginal expense in that we need to equip our data centre with more hardware. However, the recent advent of cloud computing and the ability to easily scale this part of our business has made this proposition even more attractive.
As far as identifying the best market to launch, our partners at Google have been extremely helpful in gathering initial data for us on new markets and helping us analyse and understand the general advertising costs associated with those markets, which helps enormously in making the best marketing and location decisions.
RIA: Can you share with us your top tips in creating marketing pull and getting more mileage in marketing budgets?
TH: There are five points that marketers should pay attention to. The first point is diversification. Don’t rely on one vendor, having a healthy balance is key to success, having a balance of search engine optimisation and social media is just as important as paid search and display advertising.
Secondly, give it a go – If you are in the online space, make sure you understand it better than anyone else, learn how tools like Google Adwords/Analytics works, get into social media and try things, start a blog, get active in the online community.
Thirdly, try something different – Unless you try something different, then you are just doing the same thing as everyone else. Think outside the box and try to find those niche areas where your customers will be.
Then, measure, and then measure again – Measuring performance on all facets in your business is so important. Try something, measure it, try something else measure that again.
The last but least, balance the risk – In the online world, the risk factor of starting your business or entering a new market is usually significantly lower than a traditional bricks and mortar business. Let this inspire you to be a little more adventurous.
RIA: How have these mentioned strategies helped you in launching your marketing campaigns? Can you share one successful, interesting example with us?
TH: In the last few years Social Media has grown phenomenally and people are becoming much more engaged online. This year for our Valentine’s Day campaign we capitalised on this by combining our normal Google Adwords/SEO/email marketing strategy with newly developed Social Media campaigns to increase our year on year turnover by 55 percent.
We ran a number of competitions and specials online in the lead up to the biggest day in the flower giving calendar where we advertised throughout our own websites and then reinforced the message throughout paid search, email marketing, and social media to drive people to our site. Once people landed on our site we tagged them all using Google’s remarketing technology to keep them in the loop and continually remind them of the specials and offerings that we were offering, even when those customers were on other sites around the web.
We found that the added benefit and the low cost of running our own social media campaigns really helped generate a buzz and drive real traffic and potential shoppers to our websites. Also, people love to tell others about good experiences, so we always encourage people to tell their friends about what a great experience they have in shopping with us.
Having this kind of technology not only helps us improve the experience for our customers and in turn increase sales, but it also helps us build better relationship with our customers and hopefully see them coming back for more in the future.
RIA: How do you plan your next step?
TH: As with most companies doing business in Asia, China is a market that you cannot ignore. Now with the largest number of internet users in the world and the second largest amount of online shoppers at around 150 million shoppers, just behind the United States, with year on year growth rates of 7 percent to 15 percent, China is already a serious contender for online shopping. We believe that with our unique business model and our efficient technology we will be able to do well throughout China. We are in the process of starting a pilot program in one of the larger cities in China and we are already starting to invest into Mandarin speaking call centres right here in Hong Kong.
Thomas Hegarty is the founder and Managing Director of the online flowers and gifts company, Ready Flowers Limited. The majority of Hegarty’s knowledge of online retailing comes from his experience and interest in online retailing through innovative technology and automated e-commerce platforms.
In early 2000, Hegarty founded a computer hardware business that quickly grew into an Australia-wide business, focusing on the point of sales niche in the fast food sector. This early education in technology and business process development, led to his successful management and development of several e-commerce websites in a short amount of time. He has since built and maintained over 400 websites for a number of clients around the world. With a strong foundation in both technology, customer service and business systems, Ready Flowers was launched in 2005 and is now a testament to his ability to tie his previous experience together and grow a profitable business with limited funding.
Ready Flowers first entered the Asia market in 2007. The company is now one of the market leading online retailers of flowers, hampers and special gifts in Southeast Asia. It has supply relationships with more than 4,000 local florists in over 90 countries providing same day service for fresh flower, hamper and gift deliveries. For more information about this company, visit Ready Flowers.
CEO Talking Shop is the Retail in Asia section devoted to interviews with brand CEOs and retail industry leaders.