The popularity of online shopping has skyrocketed in the last couple of years and nurseries growing succulents have taken advantage of this trend. For the customer the convenience of browsing thousands of gorgeous succulents that are not usually available in brick and mortar shops is great. And it can all be done from the comfort of the home.
Online shopping is incredibly convenient for growers as well. My nursery Fern Farm Plants has been going for ten years and our online shop for five. Before setting up a website I used to sell to florists and at markets. It was difficult and time consuming. The introduction of the website has transformed my small business. I can now reach millions of potential customers without having to travel anywhere.
However, many people are still sceptical about shopping for plants online and it can, indeed, be difficult to find a seller whose plants will match the photos. Not to mention the additional postage fee as well as a chance of the plants getting damaged while in transit.
Buying succulents online has its advantages and disadvantages. Garden centres and nurseries usually have more than enough on offer, but their succulents can be quite bland and not very exciting. The world of online succulents has so much to offer and if you look hard enough, the price can also be very reasonable.
I have bought countless succulents and other plants online but also have insight on how online plant selling works. In this article I will shed light on how its done, list the advantages and disadvantages as well as offer some tips on how to pick the right online shops to buy from.
How to successfully buy succulents online
If you’d like to give online succulent shopping a go, few simple checks can ensure you will not be disappointed when your new plant babies turn up in the mail.
There is no shortage of places to buy succulents online if you know how to look. Succulents can be bought from actual nurseries with their own websites or trading platforms such as Amazon, eBay, Etsy or Gumtree. Many nurseries as well as amateur growers sell on trading platforms.
Trading platforms vs nursery websites
It can be a bit hard to decide whether to buy from nursery websites or sites like Amazon. Both have their pros and cons.
An online shop run by an actual nursery tends to be better priced as the grower does not have to give away a chunk of their profits. Selling on Amazon, eBay or similar is great for sellers as the customers are already there and the platform is set up. The only problem is the fees. I’ve previously sold on eBay and seller fees can be as high as 11% + transaction fees which ends up being quite a bit. Because of this, sellers usually up their prices.
Private websites still have lots of fees to pay. For instance, I pay for a yearly Shopify subscription, domain name and for every credit card and paypal transaction. But these fees are nowhere near as high as what I used to pay when selling my plants on eBay. The prices of plants on my website are a lot less than my eBay prices were. Not to mention the amount of customization I can do with my Shopify website.
However, for the consumer eBay and Amazon have a great advantage- reviews. Although some reviews can be fake left by family and friends, most are not. If a seller has a bad product or practices, the reviews will out them.
Then there’s also a customer protection guarantees. If you buy an item on eBay and it is not as described, you can go to eBay directly and open up a dispute. When the seller is at fault but refuses to acknowledge or refund you, most trading platforms will reimburse you. If this happens on a private site, you are the mercy of the owner.
Finding the right store
The best way to select an online succulent store to buy from is to filter them by what you’re looking for. Search the name or characteristics of the plants you wish to buy. There is a good chance a few websites and trading platform stores will come up. Read their About Page and see if they grow the plants themselves or buy them in.
Actual growers tend to have the better plants and understanding of how succulents work, which should be manifested in the photos and descriptions. Many websites are re-sellers who do not grow their plants but rather buy them in bulk from large wholesale nurseries. While the quality of these plants may be good, especially when the re-seller is set up with good greenhouses and knows about plants, they can also come with issues from incorrect storage.
It can be hard to see which pages are run by growers and not re-sellers. The photos should be a good tell- tale sign. If they are against a brick wall or when only one plant can be seen, it is likely you’re dealing with a small re-seller. Growers tend to have multiple examples and other plants in the shots or lots of plants in the background.
Look up the Returns Policy
Next, see what the returns policy is. If the succulents are not as described, dead or damaged on arrival, a refund/ replacement should be offered. I also offer refunds if the plants die within a week of being delivered, provided growing instructions are followed.
Sellers who do not take any responsibility for damaged plants should, in my opinion, be avoided. It is also worth noting that damage is not always the seller’s fault. Delivery companies throw packages around quite badly, they can be stored in a hot truck or squashed by other, heavier boxes. In this case, it is the shipping company that should be chased for the damage.
While I very rarely need to give refunds/ replacements when damage happens, when it does happen it is 99% fault of the postal service or customers going against my growing advice (growing outdoor succulents in dark, humid bathrooms etc.). Still, it is good practice to offer refunds when damage is not likely to be the customers fault.
The importance of reading the whole description
Reading all the information provided is one of the most important things of buying succulents online and can be sign of good and bad shops. Do not skim through, but thoroughly read all the seller has to say.
I don’t get many complaints but when I do, it is mostly because a customer has not read the description. As an example, we send our plants bare rooted and it is clearly stated on every product page as well as in our shipping policy. Yet I still occasionally get complaints the plants did not come in pots!
The description of each plant should, at the very least, state the size and condition of the plant that is being offered for sale. More information available the better.
It should also say how the plant grows and what it looks like, how to care for it and what the plant can be used for. This shows that the seller knows their succulents and has probably been growing them.
Reading the entire description should avoid any confusion for the buyer. After reading all the information available on the page, you should be able to know whether the plant will be sent bare rooted or in pots, what the plant will look like and how big it will be.
Shipping procedures and costs
Every good store will have a shipping policy and be transparent about the cost. The shipping policy can usually be found as a separate page in the main menu or as part of the description of every product.
Some online succulent stores will charge based on weight, some will have a flat fee and others will offer free shipping if you buy a certain amount.
Shipping policy should also state when the plants will be posted. Most succulent stores, including my own, post only on Mondays and Tuesdays so the plants do not get stuck in transit over the weekend which would add extra days to. The less amount of time they have to spend in a dark box the better.
Social media and google
Social media and google reviews can be invaluable in finding out a little bit more about the seller you want to buy from. Transparent sellers will have comments and reviews turned on.
Posting to social media regularly and replying to comments can be exhausting for a busy nursery and I myself do not post all the time, but I do make sure I showcase our plants so people can see what they look like.
Photos can reveal quite a bit about a business and it gives you a good opportunity to have a look through their plants and establish quality.
Do not be discouraged if there are a few bad reviews. Sending plants in the mail can go wrong but it may not be the seller’s fault. Reading the majority of reviews and the businesses response will usually tell a story.
However, if the reviews are predominantly about the quality of plants or the conduct of the company, then steering clear may be the way to go.
Trading sites such as Amazon or eBay are the most reliable for reviews. There may be a few fake ones from the sellers family and friends, but most will be from customers and the seller cannot alter or delete any reviews.
Private websites, however, can make reviews up especially if they are listed as a ‘testimony’ which the owner usually writes themselves.
I use an application for our website Fern Farm Plants called Product Review and post all the reviews we get. However, I have the ability to preview every review in case it contains spam, links to dodgy sites or inappropriate language and I can choose not to post a review. While I personally post every review, even if it was bad, you can see how this self-administration can be misused.
Advantages and disadvantages of buying succulents online
Without a shadow of a doubt, the range and variety of succulents online is much better than what is offered in garden centres and nurseries.
If you’re a collector, it is very likely the plants you’re after will be online. Many websites will even have a whole page dedicated to rare collectors' plants.
Garden centres and physical nurseries can also stock some lovely plants, but it is highly unlikely the most gorgeous succulents such as Echeveria Rubin or Compton Carousel will be available in your Bunnings or Home Depot nursery section.
Buying succulents online can also work out cheaper, especially when the seller offers flat rate or free postage. My nursery sells lots of mini succulents, some as cheap as $2 which is pretty much a wholesale price. Sure, there is a shipping cost involved, but more you buy, more you save.
The quality of succulents from online nurseries tends to be better too, especially when they specialize in succulents. Garden centres tend to buy wholesale plants and store them as they see fit, which is not always how the plants need to be stored. For example, I have seen many a time succulents that have been overwatered, stored in too much shade or were infested with pests.
On the downside, when buying online, you just never know what you’re buying. The photos are there, but the actual plant can look quite different. Many succulents change colour and can look different when the weather changes. However, a good seller will tell you about these changes and will indicate what you can expect.
It is unlikely succulents offered online will be big plants. Larger the succulents, harder it is to post. I predominantly sell small succulents that are around 5cm/2inch in diameter as they are far less likely to break, are not heavy and incredibly resilient.
Shipping plants can also spell trouble and while succulents are hardy and resilient plants, they can break and lose leaves if the box is thrown about too much. Although, as mentioned above, my nursery gets very few complaints about shipping damage.
All in all, getting succulents online is most convenient and worth it when buying specific succulents or bulk. While there are disadvantages to getting plants in the mail, in my opinion, the advantages far outstrip them. If you’d like to try, I say ‘go for it’.
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