As the country gradually loosens from lock-down, we are looking to plan for the next stage of change for our business. We have already welcomed back many old friends and customers, some of whom have not visited us for over 2 months. During that time we have taken orders by phone and email and relied on volunteers to deliver to vulnerable homes on a weekly basis. While there is no certainty that CoronaVirus is behind us yet, it is clear that changes are upon us again, with less reliance on weekly food deliveries and even questions about when our Coffee Shop will open again? Changes in any business need careful planning to ensure we address our customer need, look after our staff and maintain a sustainable business. One area that we have identified, is to build on the changes that were impressed on us because of the CoronaVirus lock-down. That is that many of our existing customers currently prefer to phone or email us with grocery orders, either for delivery or collection, in a minimal contact fashion, thereby keeping themselves safer from infection. We are also aware of new customers that have found us during the crisis and existing customers who have used us more often or for a greater proportion of their needs. Being open 8 hours a day and 7 days a week is no longer enough to keep everyone’s attention. When we closed our Garden Centre and Coffee Shop on 23rd March, it didn’t take long for customers to move online and our first attempt at satisfying customer demand for compost and bedding plants was “clunky” but functional,, later becoming overrun with demand. It was clear that a proper, integrated system was required to be able to match actual stock levels in the shop with what we were offering for sale on line. Sales were easy, matching supply to demand was impossible and is still proving difficult as many nurseries and warehouses are now empty and the inertia required to match supply with demand not yet gathered steam. The answer seems to be a web shop that links with the stock levels on our electronic tills (Electronic Point of Sale, or EPOS as it’s know in the trade). We now have a web shop that has been functioning successfully for Garden Centre Sales for a few weeks and it is now being extended to the whole farm shop. This will take time……….. Stock lines and stock levels can be imported quite quickly. Shockingly we currently have 7,000 stock lines that were active in the last 3 years and at least 1,500 active at any one time (plants take up a lot of these numbers). EPOS stores only 25 character descriptions, many are almost indecipherable and need editing to make sense. Then there is a short and long description, categories, sub categories and sub sub categories but worst of all, photos. Thousands of photos and it all takes time, a lot of time, mostly in the evenings. It wont be finished any time soon (if ever) but we hope that by next weekend it will be functional enough for customers to make an order at leisure, from the comfort of their own home and collect or receive a delivery on a predetermined day. The aim is to merge this slowly with the services we currently offer and for it to add to the service we offer, not to replace any part of it.
One of the most common exclamations we hear on a daily basis (twice today, since you ask) is “I never knew you stocked that!”. The disadvantage of shopping by phone or email is that customers cannot see the range of produce we stock or the choice within the type of food they are looking for. The internet facilitates this and we have tried to arrange our web shop as if it is a shopping list, so you see all the related items on each shelf. In the shop we have a “Village Shop” section which has been included in the online inventory but with the choice to view just Farm Shop or just Village Shop produce. This is partly why we have so much stock!
There are no immediate plans to be delivering produce outside our locality (although that might be something for the future) and for the moment we will be concentrating on making our business more attractive to customers new and old, who want the convenience of being able to shop at home after a busy day at work and be able to collect their shopping locally (out of normal hours if necessary) or continue to have their shopping delivered if living in a vulnerable household. Internet shopping might not be for everyone but so far we have been surprised by how customers have taken to it willingly, if only to ensure that they don’t waste a shopping trip by knowing that their important items are available and have been reserved for them before they arrive.
It is likely to take another week to get all our stock online and with photos attached, so please keep coming back to see how everything is progressing. The final and most difficult stage will be ensuring that fresh fruit, vegetables and meat are listed in a usable format to be attractive to customers and realistic for us to be able to supply.
Happy shopping 🙂