My Flower Shop blooms at modified 1-800-Flowers

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Aiming to drive more sales online through personalization, 1-800-Flowers next week launches a redesign of its site, with a new My Flower Shop personal address book linked to an e-mail reminder service.

Also central to the redesign, developed by Fry Multimedia, Ann Arbor, Mich., is enhanced customer support using chat software from eShare Technologies, Commack, N.Y.

"We want to leverage our experience as a retail florist to offer more suggestions and advice as you do your gift buying," said Donna Iucolano, VP-interactive services at 1-800-Flowers.


The Web site is designed to have the same look and feel as a national TV and print campaign that launched in mid-October, developed by Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, New York, with the tagline, "Flowers mean the world to us."

The merchant is also incorporating new site features into existing advertising on America Online, Microsoft Corp.'s MSN and Excite, although it's not planning any new online media buying for the redesign.

At My Flower Shop, users can add frequent gift recipients to a personal address book, with information such as age, birthdays and gift preferences.

Visitors will be prompted with gift suggestions tied to their address book and sent e-mail reminders.

The merchant developed its own personalization software rather than going with an off-the-shelf system from companies such as Broadvision or Net Perceptions, said Ms. Iucolano.

"Part of our challenge in personalizing the site was that a lot of technologies out there are based on profiling the shopper," Ms Iucolano said.

"Because we're primarily a gift service, the gift recipient is more important than the actual customer," she said of the personalization feature.

The online business of 1-800-Flowers, which also sells flowers over the phone and in stores, is expected to generate more than $40 million in sales for fiscal year 1999 ending next June, said Ms. Iucolano. That's significant given that total company sales are more than $300 million annually.

"I think personalization for the gift category is essential. It creates stickiness to maintain loyalty and customer ownership," said Nicole Vanderbilt, senior analyst-digital commerce, Jupiter Communications.


However, she added, "Over time, as each of these sites develops their own address books and gift registries, there is a role that an aggregator might play," noting that it might make sense for portals such as Yahoo! or Lycos to offer gift registries as part of their services. (Most portals have a wish list for shoppers.)

Another key element of the redesign is real-time sales and customer support through eShare chat software. Users who have questions about the online buying process, need gift suggestions or have other inquiries can e-mail questions directly to customer service reps, who respond online in an instant chat box on the screen.

"In the past there's been a lag time in terms of offering customer support online, because it's been done via e-mail," said Ms. Iucolano.

"We want to try to be able to offer the same level and quality [of service] to the online customer as we offer to phone and in-store customers."

Copyright November 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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