February 1, 2001, 12:00 AM

Behind the success of 1-800-Flowers.com is a willingness to try new things

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Ready for 300,000 orders a day

That’s exactly what McCann will chip away at in his drive to be a 360-degree retailer across multiple channels, and the volume on the site makes it a tall order. The site gets 10,000 visitors an hour at peak times. The company booked 100,000 orders a day across all channels for the 10 days preceding Mother’s Day last year-150,000 on peak days. In response, McCann prepped for this holiday season by adding technology that would allow the company to handle 300,000 orders a day, integrated across channels.

While he’s careful to say that 1-800-Flowers likes customers to reach the company in whatever way they prefer, the company likes it most when they arrive via the web. McCann ticks off the value of the web customers: cheaper acquisition costs, more frequent visits than shoppers from other channels, inclination to buy more because they can see more products online, and web-based marketing opportunities such as e-mail.

“They also become better customers because they interact with us differently,” McCann says. “They use our stickier site features-gift reminder services, profiling services-all of which are possible from a technology perspective only on the web. There are distinct reasons we like customers to come to us online, and other channels try to mimic as best they can the web’s opportunities for communication, relationship and dialog.”

To bring more customers online, McCann says, the web site is merchandised “around the books and in the box.” That means the company takes every opportunity to gently push them to the web site from other channels. The catalogs feature the URL prominently. When customers get packages from the company, the packages include teasers to encourage customers to visit the web site, like the offer of an automatic thank you e-mail for gifts received. “We do whatever we can to incentivize our customers to come to our web site by showing them why it’s better for them,” McCann says.

That doesn’t mean he’s taken his eye off developments in new technology. McCann says 1-800-Flowers will roll out a series of wireless capabilities-starting with the deal it announced in December with AOLbyPhone, which allows AOL members to check e-mail on their wireless devices by using voice commands on the phone. AOL members will be able to connect with AOLbyPhone’s shopping area and hear information about flowers and gifts at 1-800- Flowers.com. They can connect by voice with a 1-800-Flowers agent to buy.

Giving technology a bear hug

Out there? Maybe. Most analysts say such wireless applications have limitations that mean their widespread use is a long way off. McCann already knows that, but true to his company’s history of climbing on board with new technologies, he wants to be there early rather than later. “We think of our web site as a big wonderful, eight-story store with everything in it,” he says. “We have a convenience store in the front, where people have a limited number of SKUs but they can get in and out quickly-that’s our telephone channel. Now with our wireless applications, we’re building a drive-up window in the front of our convenience store. We don’t think the mobile devices are going to drive a lot of new customers to us, but we know that our customers are early adopters and many of them will want that kind of access.”

Toll free numbers, the web, wireless-what’s next? In an age when this year’s Big Thing wasn’t even on last year’s radar screen, that’s hard to say. But it’s a safe bet that if the Internet continues to be the engine for 1-800-Flowers it’s started to be-and with a little more luck of the Irish-Jim McCann will be there, flowers in one hand, chocolates in the other.

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