he HTA Garden Futures Conference in Oxfordshire was an informative day for garden centre retailers, giving

them a key insight into future developing trends in the industry and having an open space to discuss further concerns, like Brexit and the plant pathogen, Xylella.


Insider Trend’s senior trends consultant Jack Stratten began his presentation with an activity of sorts, asking audience members to stand, he then asked for the people who enjoyed shopping to take their seats. Over half of the audience remained standing. “Retail overall isn’t working and the fundamental problem we have is that shopping isn’t very fun, and the answer to some extent is technology” said Mr Stratten. This technology trend has taken

many different routes within the retail industry, tailored specifically to the needs of the consumer and the types of businesses that could benefit from an innovative use of the digital movement. However, Jack Stratten does not believe this necessarily means the physical aspect of shopping will be replaced completely by online sales; quite the opposite, he provided examples of businesses using technology within their stores to pioneer a new collaboration between the two worlds. He said: “The picture is much more complicated and diverse than that because, at the moment, there are huge numbers of start-ups and businesses actually succeeding through physical spaces but by using interesting online and digital innovation.”

“NearSt is an app that essentially make products searchable locally, and this can be used for garden centres or any retailer; a customer can search for anything they want by postcode and the app will tell them where it is, it’s just using technology and data that’s already

there, but it just means you don’t have to wait for delivery, and you don’t have to just rely on whether your nearest shop stocks it, you’re using this information more smartly and you’re able to find whatever’s nearby and go and collect it.” “It’s almost like reversing that delivery trend, so rather than just making delivery better its saying ‘why don’t you make the information better for customers so they can go and pick up products for themselves?’.”

As well as this, Mr Stratten highlights all the possibilities of condensing the size of the store and locating them in areas with lots of passers-by, i.e. underground stations. “We’re going to see a lot more of these kinds of stores doing this in places like underground stations, places that have an incredibly high footfall but just aren’t very well used, most underground stations just have an old kiosk, and you just think the amount of customers passing through every day – it’s an opportunity missed.” “Argos has spent $300 million over the past five years to revolutionise its omni-channel offering and the way it operates, so one of the best examples is what its calls its Collection Only Point stores,. We never think of Argos located in somewhere like [an underground station], but this store is 5% the size of one of its traditional stores, and the only difference is it only stores items

Hosted by broadcast journalist

Cathy Newman, the day consisted of talks from key industry speakers, including Josh McBain of Foresight Factory, Insider Trends senior trends consultant Jack Stratten,

Royal Horticultural Society director of science and collections Professor Alistair Griffiths, botanist and science writer James Wong, and Dobbies Garden Centres CEO Nicholas Marshall.

that have been ordered online for 24 hours for customers to pick up on their way to or from work.” “Something like 40,000 customers pass through every day, almost overnight when they produced this Argos has got itself in touch with customers on a scale that it never would have dreamed of, but at the fraction of the cost as well. “The secret is only holding these items for 24 hours, and then just have local depots where the stuff is stored in the meantime. So, it’s very smart use of technology and it’s starting to handle that logistics issue that actually Amazon for example, hasn’t necessarily handled the delivery issue, but there are other retailers starting to innovate and Argos has been very successful with this.”

Another potential avenue for success for garden centre retailers is the use of developing technology that used to be specialist based but is widely moving into a more mainstream focus, i.e. Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR). Mr Stratten continued: “Virtual

Reality, so far, has mainly been used in the world of games and purely for leisure. But what’s interesting is businesses are already looking into how they can use VR to connect customers to their physical world, without the need of them even being in store.” “There is so much potential in terms of using VR and augmented reality for customers to see plants growing and merging in different spaces and outside of simply being in your garden centre.”


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