Exclusive Q&A: How 1-800-Flowers.com Is Gearing Up To Be The ‘Go To’ Gifting Solution

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1-800-Flowers.com aims to be the “easiest go-to solution for all gifting needs” across its many brands, which include Harry & David, The Popcorn Factory, 1-800-Baskets.com and Simply Chocolate. It’s a high-stakes goal, but the 41-year-old brand is gearing up by enhancing its web site; deepening its work with new platforms such as Google Assistant; and leveraging the Celebrations Passport® program, which provides members with a full year of free shipping. In return, the retailer is able to collect valuable customer data.

In this exclusive Q&A, CMO Amit Shah, who will be speaking at the 2018 Retail Innovation Conference, details the key initiatives that are helping to grow the 41-year-old brand; what’s needed to compete with Amazon; and the important role that voice search is likely to play in retail going forward.

Retail TouchPoints: What are the priorities for improving business at 1-800-Flowers.com?

Amit Shah: We are focused on three key areas:

  • Enhancing the customer experience;
  • Driving demand more efficiently; and
  • Building a workforce that supports our product and tech innovations.

In addition, the Celebrations Passport® program, which gives members one year of free shipping, is important for us tactically, because we are expecting it to provide us with some rich learnings about our customers.

RTP: How can 1-800-Flowers.com and other retailers compete with Amazon?

Shah: It’s become increasingly important for retailers to deliver a curated, thoughtful selection. When it comes to gifting, the idea of “one size fits all” translates to “one size fits none.” If you are going to complete on full catalog with Amazon, you are going to lose. They are too broad and too deep.

RTP: What new technologies should retailers be focusing on?

Shah: Voice search will be one technology that will determine the companies that survive and those that don’t. Interactions with chatbot involve learning over time about individuals. For example, you may prefer “Hi Debbie” vs. “Hello Debbie.” There is a proven impact on customer response for those slight differences. And you can’t copy that learned skillset, so it will be hard to play catch-up if you don’t start working on it now.

RTP: How is 1-800-Flowers.com keeping up with industry innovations?

Shah: We have a very active innovation lab group with three main efforts under way:

  • Integrating with intelligent agents: We have integrated with Google Assistant and Facebook Messenger (and we’re anticipating other innovations will launch early next year).
  • Machine Learning: Last year we announced GWYN®, an online gift concierge on our site powered by IBM Watson. We can now offer better curated gift recommendations using AI.
  • Customer Service innovation: We are using machine learning/intelligent agents to provide more thoughtful customer service. We are experimenting with anticipating shoppers’ questions based on the web page they’ve landed on. We consider this “augmented intelligence.”

RTP: Your company has an innovative approach to team building. Can you talk about that?

Shah: Over the last four years we have built a digital leadership program internally. The two people leading innovation are an ex-investment banker and someone from the finance field. I believe the talent required to be successful in modern retail is a talent around being smart about learning; and knowing how to match data to the customer experience. You are not going to overcome machine learning with just the smartest people. You need to hire people who can ask the right questions and can conjoin three or four functions together.

Retailers should be careful — savvy competitors are not just raiding customers, they’re raiding talent as well.

Hear more from Amit Shah at the Retail Innovation Conference, May 1-2, 2018 in New York City.

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