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CSA Exclusive: 1-800-Flowers stays informed ahead of seasonal peaks

Chris Skelton
Chris Skelton

A specialty gift retailer combines a personal approach and leading-edge technology to satisfy customers during holidays and beyond.

Chris Skelton, VP, customer experience,, recently spoke with Chain Store Age about how his company leverages advanced data collection and analytics technology to provide a transparent, seamless and personalized shopping environment. Skelton also discussed the importance of seasonal holidays, such as Valentine’s Day, to 

As a seasonally oriented business, how does ramp up for peak times?
“Valentine’s Day is one of the biggest floral holidays of the year and we expect to deliver approximately 18.5 million stems during the Valentine’s period this year. This amount of volume in a condensed period of time requires a very complex operational process, but we have executed over 40 Valentine’s Day holidays and know this occasion very well. 

“The ramp up for peak periods, such as Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, begins a year in advance. As you might expect, we will conduct a comprehensive review of this Valentine’s Day and start the planning process for next year right after the holiday is over.

“While certainly experiences peak periods, everyday occasions – such as birthdays, sympathy, anniversaries, get well and just because – still represent the majority of the brand’s annual business.”

How do you integrate digital and brick-and-mortar customer experience?
“Customer data and analytics have proven invaluable in helping us unify the shopping experience across all of our channels, including brick-and-mortar. works with thousands of florists across the country in local markets to design and deliver arrangements, and we leverage data from these orders to help increase our florists’ business outcomes and develop a more insightful view of our shoppers. 

“This information enables us to make data-driven decisions and orchestrate relevant interactions, such as tailored product recommendations and personalized marketing campaigns, to drive customer loyalty – regardless of which channels they’re utilizing to engage with us.

“With the enhancements we’ve made to the customer experience, we’re also taking some of the burden off of our local florists by making it easier for shoppers to place, track and modify their orders via our customer service hub and artificial intelligence (AI)-powered Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA).”  

How much importance do you place on reaching out via emerging channels (social, voice, etc.)? 
“We know that technology drives consumer behavior, and we keep a close eye on how emerging innovations can help us better engage with customers. This is why we became an early adopter of conversational commerce. We started back in 2016, and are now among the first retailers on all five of the major messaging and voice platforms – including Facebook Messenger, Apple Business Chat, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Samsung’s Bixby. 

“While we’re still ahead of wide adoption on these channels, we’re leveraging our early learnings from conversational commerce, along with AI and automation, to recreate the one-to-one personalized interactions we had with customers on the floor of our very first floral shop, at scale. 

“We’re always identifying ways to make it easy and convenient for customers to shop with us wherever, whenever and however they choose. It’s a continual learning process and, in the end, it’s all about providing the best customer experience.”

What do you see as the biggest trend in customer experience for 2020?
“It is no surprise that in today’s digital world, consumers expect ease and convenience in every aspect of the shopping journey. But they also expect personalization and to be recognized as an individual throughout the experience – with offers, products and services tailored to their unique needs. 

“At, we’re increasingly focused on creating more engaging personal interactions with our customers. We remind them of the special occasions and recipients in their lives and make suggestions to deepen these connections with appropriate gifts. Additionally, we provide our shoppers with rich digital content, including ‘how to’ videos and resources such as tips for how to care for a plant and advice for sympathy etiquette.

“We’re also focused on building community with consumers and creating unique and memorable brand experiences to better engage with our loyal customers offline. For example, we organize various floral workshops that allow members of the community to come together and learn how to artfully arrange flowers from our talented florists. We hope to use experiences like these to serve as a bridge to deepen customer relationships and create two-way conversations. 

“We're continually looking for ways to deepen our relationships with customers beyond the transaction. For example, we’ve introduced complimentary e-cards, which customers can use to express and connect with loved ones for Valentine’s Day, sympathy and other occasions.”

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