Improve your bottom line ... online

By Gabrielle Stannus

Purchasing plants and horticultural supplies online is gaining ground given its convenience. Dr Louise Grimmer, Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Tasmania, says online spending accounts for seven to eight percent of the nationwide retail spend (~$21 billion per annum) 1 . However, online shopping is a huge opportunity for not only retailers, but also green life growers, to improve their bottom line.

CEO Lisa Remato explains the Diggers Club transformation from mail-order catalogue forty years ago to website wunderkind: “As soon as shopping carts were invented, we were there!” 2

The Diggers Club’s biggest online market segment is 45 to 55 year old women, mostly home-owners or buyers. Older members generally want to grow a “beautiful” garden. Younger members with families purchase mostly edibles as they are interested in organic food and teaching their children how to grow it. Many people purchasing Diggers Club plants and seeds online come from rural regions where there are no local nurseries or “big-boxes”. Others are purchasing specialty plants that are not locally available, e.g. orchids.

A successful online business needs to plan their delivery schedule carefully to ensure plants meet customer expectation upon arrival. Do you really want your plant sitting in an Australian Post warehouse over the four-day Easter weekend? The Diggers Club slows down over summer to avoid plants being in transit during the hottest part of the year. Their last print catalogue for the year is distributed in November, generating traffic until early December, after which they take a “break” until March.

The Diggers Club uses “seasonal triggers” to provide timely information to their customers. An email and print catalogue is sent to their customer database providing information about seeds and seedlings ready to go into the ground now, not in three months time. This communication then drives traffic to their website where customers can make their purchase. Remato says selling dormant perennials online can be a real challenge, especially to first-time buyers. Educate your customers to ensure their expectations of what they will receive are what they actually get in the mail.

Make sure your website fits your business model, not the other way around. Remato recommends a single operating system integrating a business website with plant production/sourcing back-of-house. The Diggers Club have a complex arrangement linking its pre-online presence warehouse and customer management system with their website, posing some technical issues. However, with 75,000 members, the Diggers Club can afford to employ a full-time web programmer to maintain this system. Smaller businesses may not have the cash flow to afford this luxury. However, you can make the decision as to which website provider/host you choose.

Choosing the right website host is something Jaissen Henderson, Sales Manager at member Plants 4 Perth, can relate to. “We have been caught a couple of times with this issue. We have gone through four, which have collapsed and we have nearly lost all of the website data on two occasions” 3. Henderson’s advice for other members wanting to establish an online nursery is to find a good website hosting company; do your research thoroughly before signing up with them.

Once you have your website purchasing system up and running, drive traffic to your website through social media. Many businesses already have a Facebook page and use it to develop a relationship with their customers. Just remember to direct traffic from that page to your website so your customers can make purchases.

For existing retail nurseries with a physical shopfront, consider adding a “Click and collect” option to your website. This service allows customers to select and order the plants or other nursery supplies they want and pick them up at a time convenient to them, rather than having them delivered. Dr Grimmer says 'Research shows that around 50% of customers will make an additional purchase in store when they come to pick up their online order' 4.

More and more people are also purchasing “on phone”. More than four in every five Australians now own a smart phone, and ninety percent of those people use them to browse the internet 1. Dr Grimmer claims that nearly two-thirds of Millennials (people aged 23 to 37) shop on their phone every day 1. Optimise your website for mobile use and/or develop a shopping app.

Hands up, how many of you still take orders by fax? This technology has been virtually superseded by the web. Taking orders online through a website can save time and money, especially for wholesale/production nurseries dealing directly with their trade customers and retail nurseries. This approach is used successfully by NGIA member Plantmark. And they have an app!

So what are you waiting for? Make your life and your customers easier. Get online now!

If you are reading this, you must already be online. But are you selling online? If not, but you want to, take in mind the following , applicable to both retailers and growers:

Make it simple for your customers to log in and find their password. Each extra step they have to take is another barrier to purchase.

Make it easier for your customer to do the right thing by quarantine regulations. The Diggers Club website controls its order process by postcode so that plants cannot be ordered by a customer in a state where they are restricted.

Refresh your website regularly with new information and products. Jaissen Henderson recommends keeping up to date with Google analytics so you know what is happening out there in the marketplace.

Provide inspiration and information. People these days turn to YouTube looking for DIY advice. Make your own video tutorials. Just make sure you tag your video so it can be found on search engines.

Let your personality shine! Behind every business there is a story – the people! People like to deal with and buy from people and companies they can connect with and relate to. So share your story online.

Use high quality media and audio. Ever felt the frustration of scrolling through a website with multiple font types and sizes? Frankly my dear, it gives me a headache! Bad quality image and audio will reflect poorly on your brand.

Reward loyal customers so they keep returning. Diggers Club provide their members with discounts and members-only access to special plants not available to other customers.

Finally, ensure your payment system is secure. You do not want to be ripped off and neither do your customers. And that is the bottom line!


The Diggers Club:
Plants 4 Perth:


1. Grimmer, Dr L 2018, ‘The future of retail: Five trends shaping how we shop’, presentation delivered to the Nursery and Garden Industry Australia (NGIA) ‘Growing Edge’ conference, Hobart, Tasmania, 21 February 2018

2. Remato, Lisa 2018, Chief Executive Officer, The Diggers Club, personal communication (telephone interview), 16 March 2018

3. Henderson, Jaissen 2018, Admin/Sales Manager, Plants 4 Perth, personal communication (e-mails), 9-13 March 2018

4. Grimmer, L 2017, ‘Keeping our city centres and vital retail strips vibrant’, Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, University of Tasmania, viewed 18 March 2018,