Editorial credit: Victoria_Hunter / Shutterstock.com
Editorial credit: Victoria_Hunter / Shutterstock.com


Garden centres in the UK re-opened on the 13th May, on the condition that stores would implement proper social distancing, cleanliness, and protective measures for both customers and staff.

Consequently, retail chains including B&Q and Homebase have reignited their marketing efforts in order to let consumers know that they’re once again open for business.

One thing to note is that B&Q and Homebase began re-opening stores at the beginning of May (as they are both classed as essential retailers). But in line with the wider easing of restrictions for garden centres, here’s a look at their recent garden-focused marketing and communications, including efforts on email, homepage, and social.

B&Q emails

Encouraging pride in your garden

Gardening is just one category that B&Q sells, but it is the only subject in focus in its 15th May email newsletter with subject line “Make your garden your biggest escape this weekend”. This is unsurprising, given what a crucial time of year it is for horticulturalists, combined with the fact that gardening is one of the few outdoor activities in which consumers can currently partake.

With keen gardeners likely to be ready and willing to engage, B&Q appears to be targeting those who aren’t already as enthusiastic about making the most of their outside space. In order to do so, the retailer cleverly contextualises the subject, referring to the garden as a ‘mini sanctuary’ during this difficult time.

B&Q email, May 15th – ‘Make your garden your biggest escape this weekend’

Content push, not product push

As such, the content itself is actually quite basic, geared around beginner tasks such as mowing the lawn or planting hanging baskets. Putting this into the context of self-isolation, however, means that the tone and overall message is likely to appeal to all levels of expertise.

Interestingly, the email doesn’t send the user directly to any products, but rather, to blog-style content related to ‘outdoor projects’. This might be a little frustrating for consumers who are already interested in specific items. However, it is more likely to be effective for engaging customers who are still unsure, or just want to learn more about the topic, which again seems to be B&Q’s main aim at the moment. Indeed, though open rates in retail are healthy at the moment, conversion rates aren’t necessarily booming as consumers look for vital information as much as product offers.

B&Q’s email design is very effective; the play buttons overlaid on images of an iPhone and iPad are clickable, conveniently sending the user to relevant YouTube video tutorials.

B&Q homepage

‘Create your outdoor lounge’

B&Q’s homepage is again mostly geared around the outdoors, or creating an ‘outdoor lounge’, and currently features a promotion for a four-seater furniture set. Given the current government regulations still in place, this is likely to appeal to customer interest in garden or outdoor items, and those fed up of sitting inside.

This nicely aligns with its email messaging, and creates a coherent experience for customers jumping across channels. Pressure washers and patio paving are amongst the product categories promoted on the homepage.

B&Q homepage
Image via Diy.com

Interestingly, B&Q doesn’t focus too much on its store re-openings on its website, other than including a guide to shopping in-store further down the page. This is perhaps understandable, seeing that stores are likely to be busy upon re-opening, and why the retailer is still encouraging online orders as well as click and collect.

B&Q homepage 2
Image via Diy.com

B&Q social media

‘Meet the heroes’

Like a lot of retail chains, B&Q has been quieter than usual on its social channels during the past two months. In the past week or so, however, it has ramped up activity, particularly focusing its efforts on Instagram and its new ‘Meet the Heroes’ campaign.

Using the wider hashtag of #togetherwecandoit, B&Q highlights the important work being done in UK hospitals, care homes, schools, and charities, and in turn, how the retail chain has been giving back with donations of plants and flowers.

Again, this is a further example of B&Q’s emotive and inspirational content, which is less focused on products and sales, and more about community and general well-being in the context of the nature.

Homebase emails

Getting customers back in store

‘In-store’ is very much the focus of Homebase’s recent email, understandable given ecommerce is suspended. Unlike B&Q, however, there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of inspirational content to excite users who – up until now – have been unable to visit in person.

That’s not to say the email is entirely ineffective; the content centred around specific plants is bound to appeal to regular gardeners, and particularly Homebase customers who have been waiting for the chance to shop in-store.

Homebase email

Homebase email – ‘Create a little outdoor magic’

However, the headline copy of ‘create a little outdoor magic’ does feel a little uninspired – it seems like a generic term that could have been included at any time. Of course, referencing coronavirus is tricky for brands who do not want to appear as if they are capitalising on a situation. At the same time, though, customers are also likely to respond positively to brands who do so in a relevant and sensitive way.

With online operations currently suspended, Homebase’s email consistently directs users to the ‘stores’ page, where customers can find the location of their nearest outlet. Even clicking on the highlighted discount products, such as 20% off MiracleGo, also sends the user to the stores page, which could feel a little frustrating.

Homebase content

Overall, it’s clear Homebase is keen on getting customers back into stores, it’s just a shame it didn’t take the opportunity to ignite a bit of excitement or, like B&Q, include any emotive content in order to generate greater engagement. That being said, the discounts are bound to appeal to consumers looking for a bargain.

Homebase homepage

Safe shopping in stores

On to the homepage, and much like Homebase’ email, this focuses on the recent in-store openings, and the safety measures that the retailer is putting in place. This is a nice way to reassure customers heading into stores; the clear and concise information is difficult to miss.

This aside, there is not much in terms of inspirational content. The homepage is generally more product-focused, highlighting plants and seeds, as well as discounts on a range of categories. Again, this is likely to appeal more to customers who know what they’re looking for.

Homebase homepage
Image via Homebase.co.uk


Space-saving ideas

One effective element is the ‘play time’ banner, which highlights ‘space saving ideas’ for children’s play areas. This promotes Homebase’s DIY vertical, but it’s still a good example of how to pique interest in categories by subtly referencing a wider context. In this instance, it draws on the fact that families are spending much more time at home together in order to highlight the need for space saving furniture.

Homebase homepage 2
‘It’s play time’ content highlights one of the challenges of lockdown for families. Image via Homebase.co.uk

Overall, I think Homebase could do more of this in relation to its outdoor and gardening category, in order to generate greater enthusiasm and interest from both new and loyal customers.
In comparison to B&Q, it feels a bit lacklustre.

Homebase social media

Fun with puns?

Finally, it looks as though social is where Homebase is interested in injecting a bit of fun into its marketing, which currently centres around hygiene guidelines. On Twitter, it uses video – featuring a selection of cute garden gnomes – to remind customers to take the proper precautions regarding cleanliness “gnome matter what.” Pun unapologetically intended. 

Whether or not you love or hate puns, this feels slightly more creative than its other content, but Homebase needs to be careful not to come off as too preachy or condescending, especially given the fact that a some comments across social channels seem to be complaints regarding refunds for undelivered items.

This is a separate issue, of course, but the retailer needs to be careful that it focuses on customer service, as well as guidelines that customers, in many cases, may already be aware of.

In conclusion…

There’s no denying that B&Q has some very inspirational content, which is clearly designed to get customers enthusiastic about their outdoor spaces again. This is in contrast to Homebase, which largely seems to be focusing on in-store safety and product discounts. Both approaches have their merits, and time will tell which is succeeding, especially if the initial surge of interest wanes and value becomes more important.

On social, there’s certainly room for improvement, and both retail chains could perhaps benefit from more interactive and community-driven content. Homebase could arguably be more responsive from a customer service perspective, too.

Seen any great marketing from garden centres? Let us know in the comments below.