December 16, 2021
The price of a plant is rarely a deciding factor for garden centre shoppers, according to a new study.

Over an 18-month period, the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre and the Department of Marketing and Consumers Studies at the University of Guelph examined consumer buying habits at garden centres across Canada. The study’s findings were presented during the Nursery Growers and Garden Centre Virtual Town Hall, hosted by Landscape Ontario on Nov. 9. 

“The garden centre clientele is not your average Canadian plant purchaser. These are people who are true plant lovers,” said Amy Bowen, director of consumer insight at Vineland. “They’re buying more plants than the average Canadian.”

The study found 34 per cent of garden centre shoppers made a purchase based on plant dimensions, with 32 per cent of customers buying based on aesthetics and 31 per cent buying plants based on vitality.

Only seven per cent of customers made their selection based on pricing. Furthermore, 68 per cent of consumers either did not notice the price of a plant, or noticed the cost and did not make a comparison before purchasing. 

“Garden centre consumers aren’t price sensitive and they’re willing to pay more for features they value when they come into the garden centre,” Bowen said. “Price was generally an afterthought. … It’s sort of interesting to see such a high percentage of consumers that aren’t really paying attention to it.”

As well, performance features, such as light requirements or hardiness, accounted for about 15 per cent of purchase decisions.

“They may know that’s important, but those aren’t the key things that are top of mind when they come in looking for a plant,” Bowen said. 

While the study found price isn’t a deciding factor, only garden centre customers were included in the research. 

“Price sensitive consumers are probably going to big box stores,” Bowen said. 

The research also revealed nearly two-thirds of clientele shop exclusively at garden centres, and generally purchase more than 10 plants per season. Once customers arrive in store, they generally have an idea of what they plan to buy. Impulse purchases were rare, with only 16 per cent of shoppers buying a plant on whim. In comparison, about 80 per cent of grocery shoppers will make an impulse purchase. 

“Once they go to the garden centre, they might browse around, but they pretty much know what they want,” Bowen said. 

While customers generally know the plant type they intend to buy, 41 per cent of shoppers turned to staff to help make the final decision. 

“They were looking to the garden centre staff to help them in making choices on what they would be deciding going forward,” Bowen said. “Store staff play a major role in what plants they are purchasing.”

Based on the study, Bowen explained garden centres have some flexibility on pricing.

“There is room to build in some more margins, but it’s probably going to depend on the plant type, size and other characteristics,” she said. 

As customers have an idea of what they plan to purchase before entering the garden centre, Bowen also recommends organizing the store based on features that are desired in the region. 

“If you’re in a colder climate, and hardiness matters, advertise plants or set plants out based on hardiness zones,” she said.