COVID-19 has challenged each of us as individuals and business owners. Adapting to a new lifestyle, protecting workers and loved ones, providing essential resources to customers, acclimating to a whole new business structure and balancing work ethic with safety. Thankfully, garden centers are well equipped to adapt to changing environments and have thrived amidst a pandemic during their busiest season. Garden centers have been challenged in new ways to leverage technology to manage the sales flow during spring and this will continue to evolve over the coming months. There are simple strategies to leverage technology to increase sales, provide educational value and expand brand presence.

Maintaining a strong social media presence is important for customers to find and connect with your business online. During the coronavirus pandemic, social media use has increased by more than 50% of U.S. adults. Consistently posting on Facebook and Instagram are easy ways to build a following and cultivate a community. Simple updates on new plants or products, plant care tips, or promotions are some strategies to keep your customers engaged. It is important to stay empathetic and vulnerable in your communication and ensure messages address sensitivity to the current pandemic. An online presence allows you to connect directly with your customers for feedback and suggestions that can help you expand your business.

Providing an education series builds customer confidence in your business and strengthens your reputation. With all of us being locked indoors, we are looking to be stimulated, taking on new hobbies and tuning in to podcasts and webinars to learn more on various topics. Hosting webinars allow you to directly connect with your existing or potential customers to educate and stimulate interest in horticulture. On average, 69% of attendees on communication webinars convert to new customers. You may select topics targeted to a range of audiences, from basic to experienced growers – the proper way to repot plants, why leaves start browning, how to avoid pests, ways to choose the right soil/fertilizer, and more. Incorporating your own unique production kits and sharing education on how to build them is a unique strategy to expand your brand and cultivate loyal customers.

Leveraging technology to increase sales. E-commerce sales are seeing an 18% growth in 2020, largely driven by initiatives like curbside pickup that have had unforeseen growth due to the pandemic. Many consumers have turned to online shopping for the first time, reflected in the 12% growth for new online shoppers 65 and older. Strengthening your online platform for customers to view plant availability, build a shopping list, and request curbside pick-up or delivery offers your garden center an advantage in the industry. You can utilize a point of sale system for inventory accountability with online orders in conjunction with in-store orders. Many point of sale solutions also offer mobile options for quick and contactless customer checkout.

We do not know when this pandemic will end, but we do know that our definition of ‘normal’ has undergone a transformation. It has urged many of us to seek sustainability, appreciate the beauty of plants and nature, and entice us to learn about the horticultural industry. We must keep moving forward, embrace the positive change that this pandemic has had on our nursery community and stay optimistic for the months to come. Resilience is not new to horticulturists, and we will continue to thrive!