Greenhouse Canada

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Smart displays for smooth visits

Thoughtful changes to in-store displays and online content can help streamline the pandemic shopping experience.

April 20, 2021  By Michael van den Hoek

Let’s face it, we’ve all had at least one of those moments. You walked into that store with a very specific list, but 10 minutes later you find yourself holding something from a display rack that you didn’t know you “needed.”

The subliminal power of a well put together display cannot be understated, but what about during these chaotic COVID times? Many of us find ourselves in the position where we’re more worried about running out of stock to sell (and disappointing customers with lack of inventory) than we are of figuring out how to push our products. Combined with the requirement to limit capacity for physical distancing, and lineups of customers waiting to get in so they can buy their flowers, who has time to make a display? This stuff basically sells itself right now… right?

In some ways, this is true. With record numbers of new gardeners, a general increase in interest for home and garden projects, and worries over demand outstripping supply this year, you probably won’t have to worry too much about sales and promotions to move your plants. We all know though, how long it takes to build that customer trust, and how quickly it can be lost. Here are a few things to think about for your displays during the pandemic to streamline your customers’ visits.


Butterfly Buffet containers – Early season with grab and go containers full of pollinator friendly bloom-heavy annuals. All photos courtesy of Lowland Gardens.

Digital displays

Don’t worry, I’m not going to rant about ecommerce and webstores, but there is no denying that more and more customers are checking out your operation’s online presence before they pay you a visit in-person. In 2020, we found that we had eight times the number of unique website visits compared to 2019, and that was with effectively no changes to how we promoted our website. With all of the restrictions that change from week to week and vary greatly by area and industry, your customers want to know when you are open, what you have, and what they have to do if they want to come shopping. So why not capture their imagination while you have their attention? If you can spend an hour or more putting together a perfectly beautiful display, only to have it torn apart by customers 10 minutes after opening, then you can take five extra minutes to capture a photo of it and post it online with a simple caption. You’ll be glad you did. 

Screenshot of one part of our website, where we have virtual walkthroughs of parts of the greenhouse, stating all the plants you’ll find in that section, as well as price lists for all the plants we grow, so people know what to expect before they arrive physically.

Changing your focus

For our operation as a grower-retailer, the focus of our displays has changed. Where before we designed them to draw customers deeper in-store and spend more time browsing the aisles, there is now more of a focus on helping the indecisive ones make a selection. The key is to have large, bold visuals and simple descriptions with less to read. If it can be seen and understood easily from a distance, you’ll engage more of your physically distancing customers who may not be able to read it up close. It also lessens the chance of a customer getting stuck and frustrated behind slower moving traffic. 

As for the types of displays, try going back to some of the basics like easily interchangeable examples of the thriller/filler/spiller formula for containers and baskets. Other simple displays could be around low-maintenance garden combinations, hard-to-kill houseplants, or safe things to plant early for your local zone. These may sound boring to those of us who have been in the industry for a long time, but remember that now more than ever, we have a huge influx of new gardeners who may not know what they are looking for, so basic is not necessarily bad.

Reconsidering traffic pinch-points

That brings us to pinch-points. If you didn’t know where they were in your operation before COVID, then you were probably made painfully aware of them last year. With occupancy limitations and physical distancing requirements, keep these in mind when moving or setting up new displays. In this case less is definitely more, and it’s better to have fewer or smaller displays with an open layout and clear traffic flow than a confined space around a display. The latter is where you may risk customer confrontation, potentially policing each other’s behaviour.

Finally, that lineup waiting to get into your store is a literal captive audience – why not set up some displays outside? Putting up a rack with some of your most popular hanging baskets, with simple care instructions and variety information, will help them narrow down their choices before they even get inside. Switch up your outdoor displays so that waiting customers are always visually engaged. This way, they are less likely to become bored or frustrated before entering, starting their visit on a positive note.

Michael van den Hoek is co-owner of Lowland Gardens in Great Village, N.S. and vice-president of industry association Greenhouse Nova Scotia. He can be reached at 

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