Reaping More from Online Big Box Garden Clubs
Sunday, May 31, 2009
This weekend I joined Home Depot’s online Garden Club. I spend hundreds of dollars a month at their garden centers every summer, and I’m always looking to learn more and find new ideas for my yard. The site succeeds in providing helpful resources for DIY project planning and detailed information on plants, tools and gardening techniques. It fails, however, to provide features the company could use to offer personalized product recommendations, direct users to the most relevant content and translate the hours members spend on the site into more frequent store purchases.
A few easy changes to the current format could transform the online experience (and, potentially, the company’s return on investment). The Garden Club’s plant library and plant care guides are robust and easy to search. But why can’t I catalog the plants and equipment I currently have in my garden and garage, or add new items I purchase at Home Depot (or elsewhere) to a personal garden inventory? Wouldn’t this feature help me better organize my garden to-do list and provide Home Depot with valuable data for customizing plant and product recommendations throughout the growing season?
Let’s say I could find and tag (in the product database and existing plant library) all my gardening tools, plus my azaleas, crepe myrtles, bermuda lawn, and the perennials that serve as the foundation for my garden. And those mail-order hybrid tomatoes that just arrived from Burpee. Not only could Home Depot use these tags to recommend basic garden tools I may be missing and the fertilizers and disease/pest control products appropriate for these plants, they could send regular, personalized content links from spring to fall -- how to protect my azaleas from late frosts, common pests for bermuda, pruning tips for my crepe myrtles, friendly herbs, recipes and canning techniques for my tomatoes, winterizing my vegetable beds. And, of course, a list of plants whose size, color and temperament complement the plants I already have.
The more data provided by the members, the more useful the site for the member and the company. Even in-store. Could this data shape garden center displays, suggesting popular plant pairings and garden tools that should be featured together? Could Home Depot use this data to identify popular new hybrids not yet available in the garden centers that customers are buying through local nurseries or through mail-order catalogs? Could Home Depot use preseason online garden planning by members to identify what could become the season’s most popular projects and garden items?
Providing consumers with additional plant and gardening information is a great service. Home Depot’s Gardening Club does this well. But allowing customers to organize and share their gardening tool and plant inventories can turn generalized content that educates into personalized recommendations that drive sales all season long.
Lowe’s is successfully using social media and partner sites to build its own gardening community. The big box that finds a way to customize site content and use what customers already have to recommend what they may need can turn short-term advice into long-term value... and additional opportunities to sell.