Amit Shah is in the business of emotion. It’s been that way since the inception of his company, 1-800-Flowers, starting with the original dial-in 1-800 number to current innovations in mobile marketing. Shah, the senior vice president for online marketing, mobile, and social media, works to help people express themselves—from showing love on Valentine’s Day with a cookie to sharing condolences with a bouquet arrangement. 1-800-Flowers has innovation in its DNA, and Shah uses mobile and social marketing to continually transform the business functions of the company and keep it on the competitive edge.
“Mobile changes the relationship we have with our customers,” Shah says. The floral and gift services company made a dedicated choice to prioritize mobile and online platforms, but the company has always been on the front end of using technology; it was one of the first to utilize 1-800 numbers for gifts and services. The next wave of innovation came with the Internet and online sales.
Total annual revenue for all online flower retailers
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More recently, 1-800-Flowers has shifted strategy to align more closely with an ever-growing mobile audience. The company launched mobile gift-giving with its Apple Mobile Pay feature, and Shah considers this the fourth wave in the growth of the company. These innovations are all dedicated to maintaining close relationships with customers. “Customers come to us in very emotionally heightened states,” Shah says. “We’ve always had very fit relationships with our customers. To that end, Mobile Pay isn’t the end point, but the catalyst. It’s another way that our customers have access to express themselves.”
1-800-Flowers works to continually sharpen its tech ecosystem with design-oriented thinking and integration of ideas. This encompasses everything from a reactive mobile website to new ideas that engage customers. Effective new ideas start with engaged and passionate employees, and Shah empowers his team enough to accelerate this process outside of the normal constraints. “We value culture over everything else,” says Shah. “It’s our cereal for breakfast. It’s important to develop a culture where people feel empowered to ideate and bring market experiences and campaigns much faster.”
It takes sweat equity and luck to be successful on the mobile platform, and Shah’s nimble mindset from experience in startups has helped him do that. Coupled with his experience as a business analyst at McKinsey and Company, he has the analytical horsepower to drive hypothesis-driven problem-solving. It also helps him to be more engaged and reactive with his team. His previous experiences and his passion to help customers express themselves drive his collaborative leadership style. Shah adds that his background in startups structured his mindset in a way that has made this app-driven business successful.
“We value culture over everything else. It’s our cereal for breakfast. It’s important to develop a culture where people feel empowered to ideate and bring market experiences and campaigns much faster.”
“In startups, you have to develop a tolerance [for risk],” Shah says. “You cannot be afraid to fail. You need to be humble, and keep trying new things, and you need to think of innovation without being afraid of failing.” It’s this mindset that Shah has used to experiment with technology that results in increased business for the company. More recently, 1-800-Flowers focused on native applications that sent free emoji smiles. For Shah, it was an important area for retailers to think of the ability to have one-on-one marketing with customers, especially while mobile still dominates the experiential channel. Since the initiative’s inception, the platform has driven a 43 percent increase in purchases and a 342 percent increase in engagement.
Shah also focuses on making the mobile gift-giving experience as seamless as possible, because ease of experience equates to increased sales. In creating the Apple Pay app and an IOS app, he’s been able to make the process smooth and efficient. He says that this is more challenging for them than for retailers like Amazon because 1-800-Flowers deals with both the gift-giver and the recipient. Because the company needs the information for both, natural frictions arise. Shah combats that by constantly readjusting the app and its features to make the process as easy as possible for customers.
For Shah, there isn’t one seamless “silver-bullet” strategy that leads to successful mobile experience marketing. It’s a tactical approach that requires patience, agility, passion, and dedication.