Where have the online customers gone?

You have probably noticed or heard about it by now: online sales are disappointing across the board in mid-spring. But what are the reasons for this? And should we be concerned?

The garden industry has just had its two best years ever: during the lockdowns, consumers had no choice but to redecorate their homes and gardens and we have all benefited from that. Even better: garden centres were deemed an essential business and allowed to stay open, while most of the stores and restaurants had to close down!

That was a nice boost in difficult and uncertain times.

But it is now 2022 and the world has changed: where the trees grew up to the sky in the past 2 years, they now grow a little slower. So let's see what's going on.

Less demand for garden furniture

We see significantly less demand for garden furniture online. Google Trends uses an index where the high has an index of 100. That high point was in the second week of April 2021, improving the already impressive April month in 2020.

Add in the limited availability of stock last year, the fact that 34% of the furniture is sold online and that customers were reluctant to go out and it’s easy to understand why online sales skyrocketed:

Arriving in 2022, the online demand for outdoor furniture is about 38% lower than in 2021: the search index has gone from 65 to 40. This figure is for the UK but the trend is similar across the board.

Unlike houseplants (which die sooner or later), outdoor furniture does last for years, so there is limited demand for outdoor furniture at the moment.

Another factor that plays a role with garden furniture is of course inflation: the transport costs have risen considerably and your garden furniture is therefore also more expensive than last year. That doesn’t help customers buy more.

Fewer houses bought

Another well-known factor of importance is the housing market: a customer who moves house often wants to refurbish his house and garden. Those are big expenses that help push the horticultural market.

It’s a fact that there are many problems in the housing market: even for people holding bags of money, it is quite difficult to find a nice home.

The result is that the number of houses bought declined over the years. For example, in February 2022 the number of houses bought was 22% lower compared to February 2021, according to the UK Government:

Fewer people moving houses mean fewer gardens and balconies that have to be redesigned and also less (online) demand for product groups related to this.

And what about the consumer who does not move? Then we can go back to the previous chapter: he might have already spent a lot of money on home & garden during the lockdowns.

Everything is possible again!

Festivals, restaurants, holidays, everything is possible & allowed again. And that's a good thing. But time spent in the mountains of Austria or on the beaches of Spain is not spent on the house or garden. And that has an impact on the garden industry for sure.

Heathrow airport has been packed over the last few weeks and struggled to manage the flow of travellers. Even worse, airlines had to cancel flights because of this! These are consumers who have spent their money & time on home & garden in 2020 and 2021 but will be going on the road in 2022. And nobody can blame them!

The number of travellers at Heathrow was up by 675% this March compared to March 2021. Those 4.2 million travellers didn’t spend time or money in their garden but opted to go out of the country again.

And since the Garden Connect office is only 15 minutes from the runway at Schiphol, we noticed the increase in air traffic first-hand!

The weather, the weather & the weather

You can do everything right, but if the weather is bad, people won’t work in their gardens. In addition to a number of other factors, we cannot forget about the weather. April 2022 was a bit colder than usual and even had more frost days than February 2022!

The RHS also mentioned that the weather was colder than usual and noticed many crops started to grow a bit later than anticipated.

In this important month, there have been 2 weeks with good gardening weather - with the first part of the month a bit wetter and colder than usual. This wasn’t the kickstart we all hoped it would be.

As a reminder: the 2020 Spring was almost perfect with an early start and lots of good weather, especially during the weekends & on bank holidays. We weren’t that lucky this year, unfortunately...

Back to turnover in webshops

So, there is less demand for garden furniture, there are fewer people moving house and consumers can spend their time & money in other ways. Not to mention inflation, a war in Ukraine and the impact Corona has had on workers in some industries.

So while it is very tempting to make a comparison of your online sales to 2020 or 2021, it might be better to zoom out to get a more realistic picture:

  • How does 2022 compare to 2019, the previous normal year?
  • How is the total turnover, i.e. online & store, combined in relation to previous years?
  • How are ranking on Google, are your keywords doing better?

This gives a better and more realistic picture than when you look purely at the turnover year on year. Over the years, the online channel has grown steadily and that will be no different after this year to be.

The fact that online consumers, in the garden industry and beyond, are now taking a small step back, is anything but surprising!