Monday, May 18, 2015

What took us so long...?

For having been one of the oldest Online Florist in Bangalore, this indeed has been a question with no answers... the perfect 'Catch 22' moment which has been haunting us till date. We are very sure that it certainly was not ignorance all these many days, well we guess it was the lack of will and 'Us' just wallowing in complacency - it certainly was uncritical satisfaction with our achievements all the while. ;-)
Never the less and to put things in the right context, we have decided to share our thoughts/ experiences through this interactive blog. The primary driver for us to initiate blogging is the 'Deep Faith & Trust' our customers have reposed in our capability for all these many years. We take pride in dedicating this blog, to our loyal customers who have stood by us for all these years - thanks for having been our bedrock.
For those who have not known us, a big hello from Bangalore Blooms. We are local Florists in Bangalore and have been in existence for more than a decade. Bangalore Blooms, over the years has helped its customers send flowers to Bangalore for all occasions and events. Through this blog article our team would like to take a nostalgic trip on how 'Sending Flowers and Cakes Online' has substantially progressed from its humble origins through all these years. This industry as on date is not recognized by any governing body in India and continues to function in an unstructured manner. The monopoly of capitalizing on the revenues that the industry generates, resides with a few big players who are sustaining the orders that they get from the internet.
Back in those days, 'flowers delivery to Bangalore' without the internet used to be limited to in-person orders or mainly through plain old telephony (Local/ STD/ISD calls). Order conversion was low and realizing payments were painstakingly dogged by delays. Being a florist was not at all an appealing vocation,
  • wastage was as on par or more, in comparison to other industries dealing with perishable products
  • technology was nascent and  there were no freezers for keeping flowers fresh for longer periods
  • steep fluctuations in price/ quality without a regulated marketplace until 2002 (IFAB Established)
  • dearth of skilled manpower to meet demand and to efficiently manage supply chain
  • the industry was not mature, it lacked scale and volumes to rake in the moolah
The first signs of disruptions emerged with the advent of internet, in the late 1990's and early 2000 a few tech savvy florists realized the potential of what going online could mean for their floral business. Back then people were vaguely aware and had just heard of Google and some of them knew what it was :-) A few of the florists had already got their own plain vanilla 'online flower delivery websites' and of course it goes without mentioning that these HTML websites had zero integration to an online payment gateway. Now the biggest threat perception at that point in time to any florist, was all about the collection of payment for an online order to a different city.
There was a well thought off temporary fix, enterprising florists connected and slowly but steadfastly built a network across all major cities. This nexus or arrangement comprised of preferred associates/ partners, who were entrusted to deliver flowers on their behalf, collect payments from customers for each of their respective orders.
But this wasn't to be, money corrupts and there were issues with reconciliation of accounts between the associates, a lot of florist were duped or swindled of their hard earned money by the so called trustworthy associates . For may florists the lessons were learnt the hard-way (unfortunately this continues and is still thriving) and they became extremely wary of conducting business with other florists.
On the other side,  things were not looking all that hunky dory - the IT industry between 1997 - 2000, was in midst of a paradigm shift  with a lot of IT companies choking in the grip of Y2K & in throes after being afflicted with the meltdown of the Dot-com Bubble. Surprisingly, these developments had no repercussions and in no way affected the online florist websites. Business was as usual, most of them could not even relate to the hype and hoopla.
eCommerce then was fairly a known terminology, all major Indian metros including Bangalore (which by then had carved a niche as the silicon valley of India) had a substantial population working in the IT Industry. A lot of our own desi geeks along with the influential NRI community had made their presence felt on the international scene. This was a dream come true for all online florist back-home and the icing on the cake was, that there was a surge in the number of people who got to settle / travel abroad, primarily the techies with access to the internet.
Voilà...this was the birth of a model that could work, run and scale in terms of volume - in 2001 CCAvenue in India became the First Payment Gateway to offer net banking facility to its merchants. The stage was set, some techies who had lost their bearing in the Dot-com Bubble burst hopped on to the bandwagon to create online florist websites fully integrated with a payment gateway. This fetched instant dividends, the online stores were topped with more products like, cakes, sarees, imitation jewelry, soft toys, sweets and gifts for various occasions.
As it continued to work for many, more merchants/individuals started to go online, some with experience and the others with no clue and knowledge of only IT. Online florists started to spawn in multitudes, the internet had opened up markets that could not have been reached through a conventional/traditional approach, some IT companies also started to clamber onboard, getting their orders executed through respective local florist (irrespective of their background). Florist's of such repute did not understand the local market dynamics and operational challenges leading to an expectation mismatch. In all cases the customer will always be the victim and is helpless most of the time. There was not much activity on social media as it had not evolved at all, even today it just gets fizzled in the noise. Orders placed on a 'non local online florist' portal were the first to be impacted with quality levels plummeting to sub zero standards.
A few legitimate and successful florists with brick and mortar offices along with a strong online presence took a step ahead by rolling out a 'franchise model approach' for handling local deliveries, but as always the QC for a certain local delivery is restricted to the area the respective franchisor (they also have to break even their investments) could service.To handle the volume of orders that they got, such franchise's always have resorted to relying on services of other local florist (where managing QC is a challenge), as their franchisor does not have the bandwidth nor scale to deliver such orders due to various constrains. On the contrary, these successful florists in a way have been successful in keeping the local florist busy with their online orders, leaving the local florist with very little or no scope to improvise and innovate - one of the ways to beat/kill competition.
The intention of any online florist is to stay atop for keywords on search engines today as they vie for their share in the burgeoning revenues that is increasing as we speakSearch Engine Optimization (SEO) has taken the center-stage with the competition continuing to heat up. Major search engines like Google, Yahoo Search,  MSN (renamed to BING in 2009), Rediff were more popular until 2007 and now it is Google all the way.
Google was the first to capitalize on Adwords introducing the CPC, CPI and CPA model. A bidding mechanism ensured that a rate was defined at which a florist/merchant can buy a specific keyword, this was an instant hit with online florists. Advertising on search engines grew at a phenomenal rate, for important occasions, online florist were willing to pay anything for a specific keyword to get orders. For example a keyword like 'Send Flowers for Valentines Day' on Feb 14 of every year is a top grosser with a CPC costing 4 to 6 times more in comparison to the cost of the same keyword on an average day.
Not all online florist, even to this day understand SEO - only a handful few, who knew the brass tacks of the technology behind SEO did it organically. The numbers of  florist who understand that they need to be found through organic search has dwindled. Now its all about online florists who make more money to sustain their campaign for a CPA convert. As on date you can count only a few florists who have not outsourced their optimization to agencies. Most of the online florist barring a few, just trade in adwords irrespective of the location of their operations/offices. We will be discussing the Pitfalls that Online Florists face for not having a local presence to fulfill an order in another blog article. 
In all this cacophony of earning more revenues the customer has been ignored completely and the quality of the deliverable has taken a severe beating. Moreover the bridge has been burnt between the customer and quality local florists who provided their service at a much lower cost - such florists lack being found on online searches.
With the cost of conversion tapering out nicely for the online florists, customers today are being treated shoddily leaving them irate and fuming. Customers should check reviews and get a heads up from their close circles and network, pertaining to who would be a good choice for a local online florist and place orders directly, rather than going with big names.
Ciao,
Team Bangalore Blooms