From Farbod Shoraka, BloomNation CEO:
BloomNation florists – I’ve written a lengthy description of the birth and history of our marketplace and how it currently functions. If you’d like to get some context for why it works the way it does, I suggest reading the whole piece. However, if you’re just interested in the algorithm as it functions now, you can skip straight to “The Marketplace Algorithm.”
I hope this helps address some of the concerns you are having around marketplace placements. As always, we are here to help you and we appreciate your patience as we grow BloomNation.
History of the Marketplace
About 5 years ago when BloomNation was just a concept in my head, I was trying to solve what (at the time) I thought was a simple problem. The floral industry was broken and did not support the local businesses at the heart of it for two main reasons: 1.) The economics of an order – the commissions are too high and florists can’t make money and 2.) Showing stock images made all florists look like the “McDonalds” of flowers (no knock on McDonalds, I still love their fries). What I mean by this is that there was no artistry, no human element to the products. These stock photos kept the customer in the dark , they never got a chance to see what the local florist is capable of making or how it should actually be priced. So with almost no profit to make and no chance the sender can become a returning customer (since the wire-service hides the florist from the sender), there was a clear problem, and I wanted to solve it.
One of the first things I said when pitching the idea to florists in the early days was “We don’t want to send you orders….we want to send you customers!”. That is a huge fundamental differentiator of BloomNation– our platform was built to show the florist and their creative designs to the customers, so they can build a long-lasting relationship vs. a one-off transaction. So the solution felt just as simple as the problem – Make an online marketplace that allows florists to show-off their own designs and choose their own prices. Customers could see the actual work of the florists, see their reviews and order an arrangement directly from them. I’d already seen it in action with other industries like www.Etsy.com and it worked great.
So BloomNation.com was born and all the problems were solved! Not so fast…while marketplaces are beautifully efficient, it’s two-sided and quite complicated to get off the ground and even harder at scale. Here is why:
Early Marketplace Usage
After building the initial platform/website, we needed florists and we needed customers. The problem is, you need florists to get customers and you need customers to get florists. So we chose to approach florists first to populate the platform. We spent a lot of time with them selling them on the dream of what BloomNation could be, convincing them that the time they spent creating a profile and uploading products would not be a waste, given they would not be receiving many orders initially. We had to convince them to believe in the idea that if this works, we could eliminate the need for order gathering all-together. We quickly found out that florists were also passionate about this goal, and they were willing to help us out.
Although it began as a ghost town, BloomNation.com began receiving unique, beautiful designs uploaded by florists. If you imagine the site like unsettled land, florists were able to claim stake and had plenty of real estate to show off their designs. That said, we solely rely on designs listed by the florists, so if we didn’t have a florist in a specific area that meant we had no products to sell. We made it a fundamental part of our business to never show stock photography and “wire-out” orders. So in the early days, if a florist wanted to join and was willing to upload their own products, we were more than happy to take them. It gave us the opportunity to offer the florist’s products to consumers in that specific location. Slowly but surely, more and more florists caught wind of BloomNation and how we were disrupting the old wire-service model, and we began getting lots of new designs for sale on the site. The ghost town was becoming an up-and-coming city.
Marketplace Growth & The Birth of Merchandising
Fast forward 5 years and the marketplace is what you would think of as a booming metropolitan city, filled with thousands of florists who want to be part of this movement. But with the growth of florists, comes the complications over the real estate. In the early days, we never had to think about the placement of each product because there was plenty of room for florists to show up on the first page. Now, there are lots of cities where there are more florists than there are spots for the first page of the results. This is when Marketplace placement needed to be addressed.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a good problem to have, but nevertheless, it was a problem. So we began putting together a solution. As David, Gregg and I sat together to decide on what direction we wanted to take the company, we quickly agreed that one of the core principles behind the marketplace was to focus on the best customer experience.
I know what you might be thinking – Why customer experience over florist experience? If we focused on the florist experience and made sure our sellers were happy with everything we did, florists who provided less-than-amazing experiences might dissuade new users from purchasing and repeat customers from returning. In the short term florists would be happy, but the loss of potential customers would soon be detrimental to business. Ultimately, the consumer experience defines the success or failure of the florists and BloomNation as a whole. The happier the customer, the more new and repeat customers on the marketplace. The direct correlation between consumer happiness and florist happiness will become a critical part of our current Marketplace placements system.
We hired a full-time merchandiser and began building some technology to help create that amazing flower-buying experience for consumers. We began with some ground rules:
- Florists have to hand-deliver the designs they sell.
- The designs must be their own (no stock photography, stolen images or 3rd party catalogs)
- The images must be e-commerce quality (clear, good lighting, clean backgrounds, etc.) because a photo that is artistically good may not be ideal for conversion on an e-commerce website. Here is our official photography guideline for more information on this.
While this was a step forward, it was only the bare minimum of what we needed to make the marketplace a decent experience for consumers.
As the marketplace continued to grow, we began collecting data on what makes consumers happy or sad, meaning – what makes them complete a purchase vs. what makes them leave the site without purchasing anything and what makes a customer come back and make another purchase from the same florist. The findings were clear:
- Focus on the value – number of stems, design effort and overall size of bouquet (they don’t want a small arrangement that looks easy to make and costs a lot of money). Value doesn’t mean cheap, you can have a $250 arrangement that has lots of value behind it. It’s all about proper pricing. Read more about the anatomy of a best seller.
- HATE high delivery fees – Nothing kills conversion like a $20-30 delivery fee when consumers are used to free delivery with sites like Amazon.
- Want social proof – Florists with higher customer reviews had higher conversion. They feel their choice is safer when previous customers vouch for the florist.
- Demand a great experience – From communication to reliability to delivery time, consumers expect a certain level of service in order to become loyal to your brand. You can learn more about how to wow your customers.
These findings are not just helpful for BloomNation but for any florist who wants to make their floral business successful.
The Marketplace Algorithm
Remember our decision to focus on making the best consumer experience? Now apply that core principle to our learnings above and you will better understand how/why we rank products in different cities.
Similar to companies like Google, our actual algorithm isn’t public, there are many factors and data points that go into it. Your product score is never shared with anyone, it’s an internal number that helps the algorithm decide placements. This number isn’t available to our customer support team– it’s used by our engineering team only and is not able to be given out to florists.
With that said, we want to publicly share with you some main areas in which clearly provide a better experience to consumers and carry weight in your product placement. Some of the most important items are:
- Photo quality
Each item above goes towards an overall “product score”. Each city page features placements determined by overall product scores. Products with the highest scores show up at the top, while the lower scores show at the bottom. Here are two examples that show how this works in practice:
- Product A and Product B are comparable in value, quality, and reviews. Product A’s florist is 10 miles away from town and charges a $10 delivery fee. Product B’s florist is in the middle of town and charges a $20 delivery fee. In this case, Product A will be ranked higher.
- Product A’s florist is unable to keep up with demand and begins delivering arrangements late and reviews reflect this. Even though Product A has a lower delivery fee, Product B will now be ranked higher.
As you can see, the variable that is not part of our algorithm is a florist’s distance from the recipient. We’ve learned that, while delivery distance is important to florists, it is less important to the customer’s experience, given all other major parts of the experience meet the same high standards.
While this is meant to be methodical and thoughtful, it is definitely not a perfect science. So we have our merchandiser take a human pass on the product score in high-volume areas. What that means is that if our merchandiser hasn’t spent the time to look at a particular city, some of the product scores can be lower because things like value/photo quality were not properly reflected in the score.
How to Communicate with BloomNation About Merchandising
So what do you do when you think you are being affected by this? We have set up a dedicated channel to address this issue. Simply email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can review any products from your store for our merchandiser to take a look at the scores and make sure they as accurate as possible.
After reviewing your products, you will receive a response via email. You could receive a response saying that your placement has been adjusted after further review, or you might receive feedback on why your placement is correct and what you can do to improve it. While the product scores will remain internal, we will be transparent with you about which categories you can improve in and how you can take those steps.
What happens when you get feedback on how to make your score better and you take those steps but your placement is still low? Because there are so many products being listed on the marketplace, the honest answer is that we need a tap on the shoulder to let us know that you’ve made the changes. So once you complete the feedback, please submit a new email and let us know to review your product score again.
As important as all this information is, the most important thing to know is that we are ALWAYS doing our best to work for you, the florist, in the most honest, open and transparent way. We are always striving towards a better experience, and we thank you for your continued feedback as we attempt to make our placements better and better!
Do you want more feedback on your Marketplace Placement? If you fill out the form below, our merchandising team will gladly review your request. Because we take the time to evaluate every request, please allow us 5-7 business days to respond.