Wednesday, May 30, 2007 ~ 7 Comments
A while ago I asked “Would you take the money?” in reference to an email I received offering me a cash voucher in return for posting about my experiences using an online store. The answers to that question varied, but by and large you mostly agreed that, as long as I was upfront about everything, there wasn’t a problem with me blogging for cash, as it were.
I can now reveal that the email that sparked that question was sent by Will Wynne, the Managing Director of Arena Flowers a company I had used with some success back in February.
In the email Will said:
“We’re pretty happy with how we’ve put the site together and some of the fancier features we’ve developed and were wondering both what people thought of them as well as how blogging could help spread the word about Arena.
Of course you are under no obligation to write good things about us and, if you think we’re rubbish, please let us know. Privately or online, it keeps us on our toes, and we’d rather know something was wrong and fix it than be afraid of bad press. Of course you don’t even need to write about us; you’re welcome to use our service and get the free flowers with absolutely no obligation to say anything to anyone at all. In fact if you think this is a bad idea or feel a little uncomfortable, please let me know your favourite charity and I’ll happily donate the Ãµ0 to them instead.”
So, with all that in mind, I took him up on his order and, as it’s her birthday soon, decided to order my lovely wife a nice bunch of flowers from Arena Flowers (and yes, I disclosed this to her as well, I’m not THAT cheap!).
Upon visiting the Arena website, the first thing that hit me was how busy the front page is, and it took a moment for me to calm down and start looking at the options available in more detail. Not only can you see some sample bouquets, but there is a whole swathe of ways to browse the available flowers. Scrolling down the page I found even more information about the company and the services available. There is a LOT going on here and that’s before you notice that not only do they sell flowers, they sell Plants, Chocolates, Drinks and Fun (wooo fun!).
Some good points to note here are the fact there is an 0800 number fairly prominent on the page, a set of revolving customer comments and a couple of links to more information on how Arena Flowers are member of the Fair Flowers, Fair Plants (FFP) which “is a new initiative to stimulate the production and sales of flowers and plants cultivated in a sustainable manner.” Also worth mentioning is the fact that all their bouquets are delivered for free. This gets around the usual problem of a lot of their competitors where, having spent time to select the right flowers, entered your details and a message to be included with the flowers, you are told that delivery starts at Â£4.99… or more! What this means is that, unless you add additional items, the price you see is the price you pay.
Anyway, on with shopping experience.
As well as grouping the flowers by price and occasion, there was also a grouping for variety, colour and arrangement which helps cover most of the bases I’d imagine. I headed into the freesia category and spotted a nice touch. Some of the selection have an option to ‘Make Deluxe’ which, for an additional fee, would add more flowers to the arrangement. Some of the flowers also had the option to ‘Add Vase’ which… well I’m sure you can guess.
Selecting a bunch of freesia took me to a detailed page which included three different photos of the arrangement, some hints on how to care for the flowers and details about the species. Also listed on the page, rather handily, is the next available delivery date. Have used a few different online florists, this was always a pain as they tend to follow the more traditional online store idea of giving you a delivery date once you have chosen your item.
Also on this page was a nice cheeky touch which would allow you to send someone a anonymous ‘hint’ that you might like a particular bunch of flowers..
Having made a selection, and ‘Made Deluxe’, I clicked the big red “Buy” button and started the, usually, onerous task of completing the purchase.
I selected the delivery date, and time, and the page was then filled with a lot of suggestions and graphics, some of which were animated and it all got a little messy and distracting. I’d suggest that this is definitely a less is more time, but I guess this is the online equivalent of the stall in front of the supermarket checkout, those last minute ‘grab buys’ we are lulled into.
Skipping past the balloons, chocolates, soft toys and booze, I completed the delivery details, confirmed the rather ambiguous special delivery section, which included the question “Is this a business address?” to which I responded, in my head, yes it is but… so what? I continued on to step 2 (of how many? ohh yes, it told me that at the top of the page, but isn’t repeated anywhere else, step 2 of 3 as it happens).
And here there were some nice touches to be found, and, almost, a shock!
Firstly you type in the message you’d like include on the card with the flowers, “Darling schnookums, I wuv u” for example, and you can even make the text bold, italic, or change the font. A nice level of control, but possibly a little OTT? After that you could select a special greeting card, rather than the standard message card… although as there was no indication of what the standard greetings card looked like well… it was a little hard to decide whether or not to bother (I chose not). Another nice touch is the ability, for an additional Â£1.99, to upload a photo to include in the greeting card. Every bit of personalisation helps I guess, however I decided against this so as not to dull the beauty of the flowers with my ugly mug (although I did consider uploading a photo of me gurning to cam, but thought it best left unseen).
Off to the final step then, time to pay… hey, wait a minute, I’ve got a discount code to use here, where do I put that in? Ahh there it is in Step 3.
Thankfully I have a Paypal account so I used to that, but the only other steps that remain are to confirm your billing address and provided credit card details, nothing particularly untoward.
All in all a perfectly straight forward transaction.
Would I recommend Arena Flowers? Yes, I’ve used them once in the past and was very happy with both the service and the quality of the flowers which lasted over two weeks. Whilst their website isn’t anything revolutionary, there has been good attention paid to providing the information that is useful to you, as a shopper, as and when you need it, and the entire process of browsing for flowers through to the final purchase is pretty painless.
However there are a few niggles with the website.
- It’s VERY busy when you first land on the page. I’m all for giving people plenty of ways to navigate but some more research into which ones are most often used, and then ‘hiding’ the others a little better would make it a lot easier on the eye.
- The customer comments are nice to have but the constant redrawing of the footer area is annoying and distracts whilst you complete your purchase. It’s not evident on anything but the shortest of pages but the fact that, just outside of your eyeline, something is changing.. well it becomes more than a little distracting.
- The way the ‘extra’s are suddenly thrust upon you is not exactly subtle and could possibly be handled a little better, as it is, once you have selected the delivery date, all of a sudden the page leaps about as the new ‘Would you like?’ section is loaded into the page.
- The ability to type your own message is pretty basic and the fact that there is an instruction that states “If you cannot type into the text area, press the refresh button on your browser.” fills me with dread somewhat. This might be one area where the ‘nice to have’ option of styling your own message, has to be put to one side until the form actually works first time, every time.
So there you have it… just about.
Before I posted this I sent a copy to Will, he responded and has graciously allowed me to copy his comments here:
Busy: Really helpful to have such a clear â€œTOO MUCH!â€ message. Weâ€™ve been thinking weâ€™ve reached the point of having to start taking stuff off the homepage. I used to work at eBay, so I know how people can end up adding and adding to a page, without ever removing, thus ending up with a wood for the trees situation. So itâ€™s helpful to have such a clear â€œdefinitely too muchâ€ opinion on the issue. Weâ€™ll reduce duplication (e.g. summer products and ethical categories), and get rid of a lot of the (SEO intentioned) content at the bottom of the page for starters.
Checkout: Cross sell: A tricky one. Do you think it would be better if it was there right from the start, rather than popping up (we definitely want it thereâ€¦.a lot of people grab those last minute goodies!).
Business address: We put this in so we can try to get the order there during business hours (ie by 5pm rather than our stated latest of 6pm, if possible). Weâ€™ll add a ? help text thingy to make that clear.
Personalisation (step 2): What weâ€™re trying to achieve here is to have the customer, who may well never see their order in real life, to be able to control as much as possible of what theyâ€™re sending and so help them feel more connected with the recipientâ€™s experience. Glad you liked parts of it. Great feedback re the message editorâ€¦weâ€™re working on making it more bullet proof (and have disabled the fancy version for certain browsers). When itâ€™s on, about 90% of people use it for some kind of formatting of their message, which is great. Re the cards, we are currently redoing our standard card, which is why we donâ€™t have a preview of it â€“ weâ€™ll definitely add the new card when we have it, on the basis of your feedback.
So, more power to the blogosphere, or just a cynical marketing ploy? Regardless of which you take this to be, the fact that any company is willing to listen to customers is surely a good thing, after all, I didn’t have to send Will a copy of this in advance, nor was I under any pressure to tell anything but the truth.
Ohh and if you don’t believe me, I’m sure Will would love to hear your thoughts over on the Arena Flowers blog. Blogging really IS taking over the world, isn’t it. I’ll happily admit that I agreed to do this post partly to see what the reaction would be, and partly to see what kind of impact blogging can have on a business. What do you think, dear reader? Have I sold my soul, or would you rather read this kind of thing on a “review” site, presuming you’ve read it at all!