As the weather starts to get more clement, so we all look to our gardens and start to think about what we need to do to get them ready for the summer. We are said to be a nation of gardeners, and this is more true than you might think. 

Research undertaken in 2014 by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has shown that 77% of Brits garden, with 82% saying they do so because it makes them feel happier. In fact, if all the UK's 22 million domestic gardens were joined together, they'd be roughly the size of Somerset!

UK consumers spend around £5 billion a year on products and plants for their gardens. With Easter just behind us it’s perhaps surprising that this figure is more than we spend on chocolate as a nation. But how we buy plants and other horticulture products has changed over the years, alongside changes in our shopping habits.

According to figures from the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index online retail sales were £104bn in 2014. This is the first time annual spending has exceeded the £100bn barrier and this year IMRG expects a further 12% growth, with total e-retail sales estimated to be worth £116bn by year end. If you combine our growing online shopping habits with our penchant for gardening, then you quickly see that there is enormous potential for consumers to find their horticultural products online. In fact just this month, the IMRG, released figures showing that online home and garden sales have consecutively outgrown general online retail sales every year since 2011. For example last year online retail sales grew by 15% and home and garden sales grew by 17%. In 2013 this difference was even greater with 64% growth reported for the home and garden sector versus 17% for the general online retail market.

So with this increased and changing demand, I looked into the impact this is now having on plant and other retailers in the horticultural sector; a sector that isn’t typically thought of as being at the forefront of ecommerce. How are retailers in this sector dealing with demand, how are they remaining competitive, and as more smaller horticultural retailers go online how can they meet order fulfilment, despatch and delivery requirements in a cost effective way?

Here at NetDespatch we are certainly seeing more and more plant and garden equipment retailers coming to us for help in implementing new technology to support their growing online businesses. As specialists in online shipping and web-based parcel data management, we are helping these retailers to seamlessly integrate disparate systems to enhance their offering and streamline their overall business.

Crocus, David Austin Roses and Plantify are three retailers using the NetDespatch parcel data management platform to grow their businesses (if you will excuse the pun). NetDespatch is helping them to despatch plants and other goods more cost effectively to more consumers, and to offer more delivery options throughout the UK and across the world.

So how are we doing this?

By using the NetDespatch web-based shipping platform to automate previously manual processes, integrate their order management systems with carrier software, and produce the correct labels and customs documentation for their chosen carriers, these retailers are cutting administration costs, streamlining processes, speeding up order fulfilment and getting more parcels delivered on time - and all at no extra cost!

If we look at Crocus, which won gardening website of the year in 2014, an online catalogue of over 6000 plants and 2000 tools and gifts can be ordered online and shipped from its site in Windlesham, Surrey. In fact, since launching in April 2000, Crocus has grown to become the biggest gardening website in the UK, supplying a significant range and choice of plants. In the coming year we expect over 100,000 deliveries from them to be processed via the NetDespatch platform.

Another great example is David Austin Roses who provide plants to some of the UK’s leading garden designers, people like Luciano Giubbilei, Tom Stuart Smith, Jinny Blom and Kim Wilkie to name but a few! David Austin Roses has grown plants for the show gardens at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show every year since it was founded and in the last 14 years it has won 21 gold medals for gardens that it has grown and built. A well-established business with a heritage that spans back over fifty years of intensive breeding, David Austin ships over 40,000 roses every year both to the UK and overseas. Through NetDespatch they have been able to integrate their order management systems with their selected carriers, APC Overnight and Asendia.

My final example is Windsor-based specialist plant retailer, plantify.co.uk, which has cut their despatch time by a staggering five hours a day. With more than 3,000 varieties of British-grown plants in stock, Plantify delivers to online customers throughout the UK, typically within 24 hours in major locations. Tasked with upgrading Plantify’s label printing, which was too slow and delayed the whole order fulfilment procedure, we implemented a solution that automatically processes orders from Plantify’s website, immediately printing the correct label for the service selected in the warehouse. At the end of the day, a single click generates the carrier's manifest and the data is automatically pre-advised to the carrier. Customers are also automatically notified when their orders have been despatched, and can easily track the status of their parcels.

This completely scalable solution allows Plantify to handle erratic volumes, which vary from around 350 consignments per day to 6,000 per day during peak periods.

I’ve no doubt that there are a multitude of other horticultural businesses who would benefit hugely from our online solutions, especially as we are retained by parcel carriers to provide all of these services, and therefore retailers receive them free of charge. With gardening forefront of mind it would certainly be timely for those companies to do a bit of ‘spring cleaning or pruning’ in their own back yards in order to help streamline and grow their businesses while the sun is shining.

By Becky Clark, NetDespatch CEO