A Look At Shopping Online With NetGifts And NetFlorist
A brainwavez.org Tech Feature

South Africa By: Mandy J Watson on 1 February 2011
Category: Tech > Features
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The online shopping sites NetGifts and NetFlorist offer South African consumers a wide range of gift items that are perfect for special occasions or emergency gifting situations. Read about our experiences trying out the site and placing an order.

NetFlorist, the South African florist that has been both a bricks and mortar establishment as well as an online site for years, has a companion site called NetGifts, through which you can buy gift items (as well as flowers and bouquets) and have them delivered to friends and family.

NetFlorist offered me a voucher and asked me to test out NetGifts to write about it for brainwavez.org, so this article details some of my experiences in using the site and placing an order.

NetGifts

The first thing that you should be aware of is that the NetFlorist and NetGifts sites are quite interchangeable. If you happen to click on a floral item that's listed on the NetGifts site you'll end up on the NetFlorist site, and vice versa. When you make a purchase, no matter which site you've used, you'll do it through the NetFlorist shopping system. The two site's visual identities are quite similar so in surfing around you may not even realise that you've been switching from one to another. At the moment this is because the NetGifts branding was introduced as a way to let the public know that NetFlorist is about more than just flowers, so the two sites have been kept very integrated (in a way that will make usability experts cry), but in time, as NetGifts and its identity catches on, it may be split off to being a more distinct and separate online property.

For now, as a customer, I'd say that, in terms of shopping - just use the sites. Head to either one, click around, look at items, add what you want to your basket, and don't pay attention to what site you're on.

The sites are sort of the 21st-century equivalent of those catalogues that used to be handed out at Christmas (if you can remember that far back) where you'd assemble a whole list of things, send it off, and a few weeks later a giant box of stuff would appear for you at the post office. There is a significant catalogue of flowers and floral arrangements, as well as biscuits and other confectionary, and toys and related items for children. You can also order vouchers for "experiences" [ example ] that are primarily adventure and travel trips that are based in a specific location (happily there seem to be items from most parts of the country) and if you're in Johannesburg or Pretoria you can also order orchids and pot plants from the sites. (Unfortunately they don't deliver to other parts of the country, which really disappointed me, though orchids are, of course, very delicate plants.)

To help you find something appropriate you can search by price range (the lowest is R150 to R199 and the highest is R1 500 and more) or by occasion - a notable one at the moment being, naturally, Valentine's Day.

NetGifts basket

(As an aside, NetFlorist is currently running a Valentine's special on a box of 12 40cm red roses for R269 plus delivery (R45), though only for delivery in Cape Town, Pretoria, Johannesburg, and Durban and only while stocks last. If you place the order before 10 February 2011 you also receive a free box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Click here for details.)

When you place the order you can obviously select to have it sent to someone else, along with a card, although you're also more than welcome to buy yourself a gift. There's a "sentiment" drop-down box on one of the order pages and each sentiment gives you appropriate predefined text that will be printed in the card. You can append something to it or delete it and write whatever you want.

Delivery and delivery charges are another convoluted issue so I'm going to detail it here so you aren't left with the kinds of questions I had while testing the site, because it's not always clear what's going on when you're shopping, as I found out when I added a few different items to my basket and saw that each one was charged its own delivery fee.

NetGifts basket

A flower delivery costs R45. A gift delivery costs R55. In Johannesburg, where the head office is situated, NetFlorist handles both types of orders so you are charged R55 for the entire order if you buy from both NetFlorist and NetGifts. For other parts of the country your order is handled by multiple partners, depending on what you order. A floral order will be handled by the affiliate florist in your area and a gift order will be sent from the head office in Johannesburg. For this you will be charged R100 if you purchase both types in one order. (If you only purchase one item then only the R45 or R55 will apply, depending on what you've bought.)

I've been told that the company is looking at opening more hubs in the other large cities so that gift items don't have to be sent from Johannesburg. Let's hope that happens soon.

I've pointed out to NetFlorist that some of these issues are, to someone such as me, anyway, rather weird (and annoying), and I've been told that the company is working on some of these problems, such as the delivery-charge issue. Most of the sites' customers only purchase one item at a time and those who buy in bulk (corporate gifts, say) usually contact the call centre directly (0861 300 600 (NetFlorist) and 0861 300 500 (NetGifts)) to process the order through an agent. However, if you're someone like me who falls between these two scenarios, you can either contact the call centre to have a corrective voucher issued right away or NetFlorist will pick up the problem when you place the order and credit you the overcharged amount immediately. I can't say that I think that any of this is ideal but I appreciate that they fully acknowledge the problem and are addressing it. (Hopefully - it should, after all, just be tweaks to a few lines of code....)

I was sent a report that had analysis of the 2010 festive season, as well as some extra information via email, and apparently 80% of NetFlorist's customers shop online and the customer-repeat rate is 78%. For many of the customers their online purchase at either NetFlorist or NetGifts is their first experience with shopping online so they appreciate the human touch. Personally I think the point of an online site is so that you can just get your stuff done without having to deal with humans (otherwise you may as well go to the mall) but I understand that people new to online shopping may need to take baby steps rather than a giant plunge, and there are still a lot of people that have never made an online purchase.

The sentiment drop-down list

Happily the rest of the order process is much easier. As part of the process you will be asked to set up an account if you don't already have one, and it all goes quite smoothly - I wasn't kicked out of the system and it didn't forget what I had in my basket. If you have a voucher you can "pay" using it, otherwise you can use your credit card.

The company uses RAM (well, in my case, anyway, to the Southern Suburbs in Cape Town) to deliver the packages. Personally I've found RAM to be a bit hit and miss (not specifically with regards to NetGifts but in general in my work as a tech journalist when I've had to return products to suppliers). In this case the delivery happened on the specified day at about lunch time, and with no problems. Depending on what and when you order (and where you live) you can expect delivery as fast as same-day most flowers and next-day delivery for gifts, which is pleasantly quick for people that may have forgotten to buy a gift for a special occasion. Unfortunately the test voucher I was given wasn't enough to try out a delicate or breakable item in the timeframe that I had but I assume the fact that NetFlorist hasn't gone out of business in all these years is a sign that generally packages are received in good order. If not, you can call the call centre and an agent will deal with the problem immediately.

So that was my experience with the site - a few problems, all of which at least have explanations, but overall a pleasant shopping experience.

• The NetGifts service was tested with a complimentary voucher from NetFlorist.
• brainwavez.org is currently running a competition in which you can win a voucher in time to use for a Valentine's Day gift for someone special (or yourself). Click here to enter.
• Although this article focuses on the South African market NetGifts and NetFlorist also deliver to other countries, including Australia, Namibia, Hong Kong, Israel, Zimbabwe, and most of Europe. See the drop-down lists on the sites for details.





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