Case Study: 1-800-Flowers “Operation Love Storm”
In February 2014, a winter storm threatened the delivery of thousands of flowers on Valentine’s Day in New York City. In the days leading up to the holiday, forecasters predicted a foot of snow and nearly insurmountable road covering. For one of the busiest delivery days of the year, companies like 1-800-Flowers, Amazon and food retailers grew concerned that they may not able to meet the large demand. Despite these pressures, New York-based 1-800-Flowers was able to address the challenge ethically by using social media. Its handling of the eminent crisis reinforced customer loyalty and satisfaction, and demonstrated the organization’s commitment to consumer experience.
Although 1-800-Flowers has a clause in each sales agreement that does not hold it responsible for delays due to weather, the company decided to launch a pre-crisis campaign that aimed to address growing public and consumer concern. The organization knew how emotional Valentine’s Day flowers can be for customers, thus it wanted to find a way to communicate its investment in consumer satisfaction and well-being. However, because Valentine’s Day flowers are often a surprise for recipients, the company had to communicate in a way that would not alert recipients to a potential surprise.
However, this left out the many customers who expected flowers, but did not purchase them. The company sought a way to communicate broadly with residents who expected to receive flowers through the delivery service without spoiling a surprise gift.
In this case, 1-800-Flowers had a choice: either take charge ethically by communicating frequently with customers, taking responsibility and risk losing money or ignore the impending storm and hide behind the terms and service agreement. Fortunately, the organization made the right choice by using social media to interact with customers and take on the challenge.
Course of Action
1-800-Flowers turned to social media, specifically using Twitter to communicate broadly and narrowly with its public. First, the organization tweeted hourly updates about the storm, where it was able (or unable) to make deliveries, and if it was planning on delivering early to avoid the storm. In addition, the company encouraged customers to use Twitter’s direct message (DM) feature to ask specific questions about order or delivery status.
The company monitored the Twitter account throughout the storm, coordinating inquires between customers and delivery teams. The account further shared information from other users, such as weather forecasters, city officials and company management to help citizens (even those who did not order flowers) cope with the storm.
Again, although the company was legally protected by the clause customers agreed to when making the purchase, 1-800-Flowers knew that inaction or failure to communicate would result in a public opinion crisis and loss in customer confidence. Social media gave the company the opportunity to communicate directly with its customers as well as broadcast widespread messages. Importantly, this ability to widely distribute messages helped reach recipients without spoiling a floral surprise.
As the storm intensified around New York City, local and national media outlets began to cover public reactions and looming anxiety. Because 1-800-Flowers took a proactive stance on the imminent crisis, most media coverage of the company was positive and encouraged customers to engage with the organization through social media and Twitter. Some media outlets even began recommending last-minute shopper’s purchase through the site to avoid going out in the weekend storm. This helped cement 1-800-Flowers’ reputation as dedicated to customer satisfaction and willing to take the extra steps necessary to make customers happy.
1-800-Flowers' use of social media helped portray the company as ethically dedicated to customer satisfaction. Although it was legally protected in this crisis, its proactive interactions with customers may have ultimately helped encourage positive public and media attention to their brand.
In the end, 1-800-Flowers reported a 6.3 percent loss in net profit for the winter quarter in 2014, partially resulting from the winter snowstorm. CEO Jim McCann reflected that although there was a profit loss, he believed the organization’s actions during the storm resulted in positive long term effects for the organization:
"In addition, throughout the holiday period, our dedicated customer service associates—including our home agents and our internal social media communications teams—did an exemplary job of responding to each and every customer inquiry and issue we received. As a result, we were heartened by the post-holiday accolades we received in the blogosphere for our open and transparent communications policy on Twitter and Facebook. All of these efforts reflect our many years of experience as the world's leading florist and gift shop as well as our unparalleled passion for providing great service and delivering smiles. We believe this focus positions us well to deliver solid year-over-year growth during our current fiscal fourth quarter which features the spring gifting occasions including Easter, Administrative Professionals Week, Mother's Day, graduation and wedding season and Father's Day."
Moral of the Story
The use of social and digital media may have helped 1-800-Flowers avoid a crisis during Valentine’s Day 2014. By using the continuous and immediate ability of social media to communicate with customers, the organization turned the storm into an opportunity to solidify its own reputation and relationship with customers. Other organizations may use 1-800-Flowers’ approach to digital media during a crisis for guidance in their own cases.
Future Readings and Sources
Gensler, Lauren. (2014, Sept 11). “1-800-Flowers laments winter weather, touts Harry & David buy” Forbes. Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/laurengensler/2014/09/11/1-800-flowers-laments-winter-weather-touts-harry-david-buy/#2c1494a18889.
Pititto, Joseph D. & Yanique Woodall. (2014, April 29). “1-800-Flowers.com, Inc. reports results for continuing operations for its fiscal 2014 third quarter.” 1-800-Flowers. Retrieved from: https://investor.1800flowers.com/~/media/Files/O/One-800-Flowers/press-releases/past/flws_news_2014_4_29_general.pdf.
Porpora, Tracy (2014, February 14). “Will cupid or mother nature win?” Silive. Retrieved from http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2014/02/post_722.html.
Wong, Vanessa. (2014, February 14). “High stakes for snowbound florists on Valentines Day.” Bloomberg. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-02-14/1-800-flowers-and-ftd-fight-stormy-nature-to-get-flowers-delivered.Next Page: Lesson 1 Assessment