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BLOSSOMING OPPORTUNITIES FROM ONLINE TO ON AIR, IF IT'S A NEW MEDIUM, 800-FLOWERS IS THERE

By Published on .

Hoping to bloom as the floral leader for the interactive age, 800-FLOWERS is planting many seeds in electronic marketing ventures.

800-FLOWERS, a division of Westbury, N.Y.-based Teleway, began dabbling in interactive services 21/2 years ago and today is involved in a wide range of projects across various platforms, from online services to CD-ROM catalogs to interactive TV.

The floral company says it wants to move even more quickly into the interactive age but remains frustrated by technology delays.

"As quickly as technology is moving, we have all seen items such as interactive television and screen phone tests be delayed. That is a big disappointment, because we are ready to take advantage of those technologies today," said Teleway VP Chris McCann.

Still, 800-FLOWERS is bullish on the concept and is far along in adapting to interactive strategies that are up and running today.

Already, 5% of the company's $100 million in sales comes from interactive media. The rest is derived from traditional telephone and retail locations.

800-FLOWERS said it spends about 10% of its annual budget on interactive media, far more than other marketers do today.

CompuServe has been 800-FLOWERS' top-producing interactive service. Sales last year grew 250% over the previous year.

Promotions have been a big key to 800-FLOWERS' online success. Last Christmas, the marketer ran a contest on CompuServe called "Scrooge's Screw-up." The contest listed six products in the 800-FLOWERS electronic store; the consumer had to pick the mispriced item. Some 4,000 entries were received.

"It has significantly increased our business interactively to provide entertainment value to our customers. There is a market for those who enjoy working on their computers by playing games, entering contests and promotions," said Elaine Rubin, manager of interactive services.

800-FLOWERS is also in the Bloomberg Financial Network, an online service catering to business subscribers. The marketer was the first non-financial advertiser on the system and saw it as an opportunity to reach a more upscale, niche market.

Ms. Rubin admits there is a lot of opportunity for flower and gift-based products on interactive services because everybody has a need for these small-ticket items at one time or another. In fact, rival PC Flowers was born and raised as a service on the Prodigy online network.

"Emerging interactive services want to go with a proven product that has mass appeal rather than going with niche products," Ms. Rubin said.

Interactive TV tests also are a big part of 800-FLOWERS' strategy, although Ms. Rubin admits those efforts haven't been as profitable as online services.

"Some of the investments in interactive technologies are not as promising if you take a look at them individually. You need to have a mix of profitable and long-term investment opportunities," she said.

Currently, 800-FLOWERS is operating on Fourth Communications Network's interactive TV test with Bell Atlantic Corp. To promote the service, 800-FLOWERS distributes collateral pieces through the 800 rooms of the Santa Clara, Calif., Marriott where the test is taking place.

Just this month, 800-FLOWERS started marketing through IT Network's Interactive Channel test in Denton, Texas. Three services are available.

"The Interactive Channel test gives us another opportunity to see how consumers really react and adapt to interactive shopping in the home setting," Ms. Rubin said.

When an order is placed interactively, it goes onto a wire service connecting florists around the world. Orders are collected every 3 hours and delivered within 24 to 48 hours.

Other deals in the works include CUC International's shopping service on Viacom/AT&T's Castro Valley, Calif., test and Time Warner's Orlando test. 800-FLOWERS also is involved in a test from Interaxx Television Network in 2,000 homes in Coral Springs, Fla.

The marketer participated in Apple Computer's En Passant CD-ROM test last fall and will be part of this fall's rollout. It also will be a part of Shopping 2000, a CD-ROM catalog due out next month from New York-based Contentware.

Most of the interactive marketing has been handled in-house. But 800-FLOWERS is working closely with agency McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, to develop a strategy to combine both the $11 million traditional media campaign and electronic marketing. Also, McCann's Chicago office is working on developing a consistent look for all of the electronic marketing efforts.

"Because of the changing marketplace and the emergence of interactive services, we view it as being critically important to be the major marketer in the floral industry available through interactive services," said Mr. McCann.

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