Florists and the Media
2007 Valentine's Day
The February issue of Consumer Reports covers boxed, shipped roses from ProFlowers, Hallmark, Organic Bouquet and Jungle Roses. CR's recommendation:
"Consider ordering from a florist near the recipient (check the Web)."
Now there's some good advice, although we do caution Valentines to beware of the tactics used by some order gatherers to mislead consumers about their locations. Make sure your local florist is really local.
Phony Florists: National Flower Fraud
Investigative reporter Hank Phillipi Ryan of WHDH-TV Channel 7 in Boston covered phony florists posing as local flower shops using local city names and fake addresses. Orders placed through the phone numbers are forwarded to out-of-state call centers where consumers' dollars are skimmed and the values of their flowers are substantially reduced. (Video of Hank's consumer report can be viewed by following the phony florist link above.)
The segment included an interview with Donna McGuire of Abigail's Roses of Quincy, MA, who had received a skimmed order sent to her store via 1-800-Flowers Bloomnet Network (BMT) by a Waukesha, WI affiliate. The Waukesha affiliate had purchased local phone numbers in Massachusetts, named them to appear to be local flower shops, added fake addresses and arranged with the phone company for the calls to be forwarded to their Wisconsin operation.
Consumers didn't know they'd called a not-local-florist until they saw their purchases and complained about being disappointed with the values. In each case, the call centers had removed undisclosed fees before forwarding the orders to unsuspecting real local florists to make and deliver.
Barabara Anthony of the Federal Trade Commission said, "Taking consumers money when they are unaware of it, through deception, that's against the law."
We agree. When will the Society of American Florists (SAF) finally weigh in with the Federal Trade Commission to request a thorough investigation of this ongoing fraud?
It's not just local phone books being attacked by unscrupulous flower marketers. The Florist Detectives went looking for Abigail's of Quincy on the web. What we found were further examples of deceptive ads for phony 'local' florists.
FlowerShopping.com - the "Local Quincy Florist"- is a call center located in Southern California with a website hosted by national wire service Teleflora. 11Flowers.com - "Quincy's Finest Florist"- is part of the same operation as FlowerShopping.com. and is also hosted by Teleflora.
These stories of consumer rip-offs by fake phony local florists with deceptive ads will only end when regulators follow the money.
2006 Valentine's Day
Flower Power by Kelli B. Grant of smartmoney.com provides timely advice about the benefits of purchasing Valentine's Day flowers direct from local florists and cautions consumers to beware of shopping on the web.
"A major advantage of buying online is that discounts are in full bloom this time of year. The downside is what you see isn't always what you get."
The article includes ordering advice from San Marcos Florist owner Marilee Just.
A broadcast by WPVI-TV of Philadelphia featured a Flower Delivery Test story by consumer reporter Nydia Han. We salute Ms. Han for taking the time to fully explain the challenges of placing orders with national companies.
"So look for the words "florist delivered" or "florist designed", otherwise, your order might be something referred to as a direct ship, like one we got from FTD.com.
"What you're going to get is a bouquet in a box with an empty vase."
The online article includes comments and suggestions from Herbe Rothe of Phildelphia's Rothe Florist.
Roanoke's WSLS-TV tested red roses from both national companies and local stores. The arrangement judged as best was ordered from FTD.com and delivered by Roanoke's Roy Webber Florist. The article states that the station's shopper paid $91.00 for the beautiful bouquet and the Florist Detectives would like to point out that a savvy consumer could have saved at least $6 by ordering direct from Webber's and bypassing the wire service broker. Rated as a 'bust' was the do-it-yourself box of roses from ProFlowers.com.
"It came in a box, all wrapped up. So with it, there was some work to be done. We tried to spruce them up, but the vase was too large for the flowers they sent and the arrangement didn't look at good as the others."
A group of independent local florists issued a press release offering to replace unsatisfactory flowers shipped via parcel delivery service during the Valentine's Day holiday period. The article discusses concerns about consumer confusion, misunderstanding and negative references made by some national marketers about the price and quality of flowers delivered by local florists.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution exposes phony local florists
In an article dated July 13, 2005, writer Ken Sugiura penned "Order gatherers' listings wreak havoc on local florists", highlighting the deceptive practices of out-of-state independent brokers and florist wire service affiliates that obtain local phone book listings using specific city names. Calls are forwarded to phone banks where consumers are charge additional 'service fees', with their orders being transferred back to unsuspecting local flower shops for fulfillment.
A call to the Georgia Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs said the practice could be a violation of the state Fair Business Practices Act.
"When you think about it, it is a deception," said Bill Cloud, spokesman for the office. "People shouldn't be led to believe they're dealing with a local merchant and they're all of a sudden dealing with a phone bank.
"That's in the category of 'That ain't right.'"
We agree and thank the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for informing the public about this issue. Local Atlanta area flower shop owners interviewed for the article included Fred Richards of Buford Florist, Leah Cox of Snellville Florist and Jan Ostell of Marietta Flower Shop.
2005 Mother's Day
SmartMoney.com's Stacey L. Bradford writes about The Best Buck for the Bloom as she recommends consumers 'go local'.
"What about the popular strategy of ordering flowers online through a company that has a national network of local florists? The bloom could be off that rose. Sometimes the pictures posted on Web sites can be deceiving. Small bouquets could look deceptively large."
The article goes on to provide additional ideas for getting the best flower gift values for the Mother's Day holiday.
The Associated Press Covers Florist Order Gatherers
In an article released the weekend prior to Valentine's Day, Associated Press business reporter Mike Schneider wrote about the negative impact of third party affiliate order gatherers on the retail florist sector. Describing measures currently being taken by local florists to combat the scheme, the author interviewed Tom Carlson of Fairview Florist and Russ Schmitt of Schmitt's Florist, board members of the Independent Florists' Association (IFA).
The story particularly made waves throughout the industry as flower shop owners challenged the remarks attributed to Society of American Florists (SAF) spokesperson Jennifer Sparks as sidestepping the article's central issue and appearing to defend the current deceptive marketing practices being used by some affiliates.
We oddly note that SAF, the industry's largest trade association, has made no mention of the article in any of its communications with members to date. Perhaps they are wisely reconsidering their stance on this issue.
The Florist Detectives are pleased that the AP considered this a worthwhile issue to cover and hope they and other national media take an even closer look.
We are especially pleased that one of the web versions of the story included a link to our site.
Every Valentine's Day, the media beats a path to the web in search of price and quality comparisons, ostensibly to provide information to consumers eager for a good deal on roses.
2005 Valentine's Day
Bankrate.com's Amy Fleitas wrote a very informative article about avoiding floral scams and flowery disappoints. The Florist Detectives highly recommend it.
ABC News' Sasha Segan writes about planning Valentine's Day online and suggests
"But don't go to 1800Flowers.com, the default destination; they're expensive and unimaginative. Patronize a local florist instead by going to switchboard.com, punching in 'florist' as a business category and your city and state."
We agree but do caution consumers to be wary of some of the deceptive location information found on both print and internet yellow pages.
WCPO in Cincinnati's John Matarese shopped a number of internet florists, chronicled the trials of trying to arrange his own direct-shipped flowers, and concluded that a local florist's quality and presentation came out on top.
KLTV in Tyler, TX bought roses from 1800flowers.com, ftd.com, hallmark.com, proflowers.com and teleflora.com and were stunned to discover that four of their low-priced purchases were all delivered in boxes.
"We gathered the ladies in the newsroom to help put the arrangements together. After 20 minutes of ripping off tissue paper and plastic we were disappointed to find flimsy roses, one rose was broken leaving one arrangement with only 11 roses. One bouquet didn't come with a vase. And the leaves and greenery in another was bent and mangled from being packed in a box."
WTVH in Syracuse, NY interviewed a local florist, advised consumers on how to avoid dealing with middlemen and offered suggestions on finding real local flower shops on the web. (We were delighted that they linked to our site, too.)
One of the nation's most trusted organizations, Consumers Union, recently took a look at ordering flowers via national companies. The article, Flower services that really deliver, compared products purchased through FTD.com, 1800Flowers.com, Teleflora.com, Proflowers.com and Hallmark.com.
In terms of value, we'd like to point out that the $9.95-10.95 'service' fees charged by FTD, 1800Flowers and Teleflora are completely avoidable when consumers purchase direct from local florists. Most shoppers are unaware that the arrangement prices displayed on those sites include estimated local delivery charges. We've explained the fee structure more thoroughly here.
The Florist Detectives are in complete agreement with this comment from the article:
So if you know a dependable local florist, you may as well order directly from that shop to avoid a disappointing delivery.
Similar to other service businesses - like airlines and car rental agencies - local florists may even provide their products for less than the nationally advertised price when consumers order direct. It pays to shop around and buy straight from the source.
We'd be remiss if we didn't point out that all same-day deliveries via both Hallmark.com and Proflowers.com are routed through the Teleflora network for fulfilment by local florists, after consumers are charged $9.95 conveniece fees.
The Florist Detectives r ecommends this article for highlighting the challenges of placing florist-delivered orders through national companies.
2004 Valentine's Day
The Florist Detectives found this article by Good Housekeeping Magazine to be more typical of the type of advice offered - advice that perpetuates flower myths and further leads to more confusion by consumers.
The title, Best Mail-Order Roses, might lead readers to think that these products were primarily delivery by mail, yet as far as we can tell, only two of the ten sets of roses ordered, those from Flowerbud.com and GreatFlowers.com, actually arrived via post. No mention was made that the staff at Good Housekeeping had to clean, cut and arrange the flowers after they were received.
We also wonder why no comment was offered as to the initial impressions of receiving these do-it-yourself-kits-by-mail when compared to the presentations of the designed products delivered via the local florists. In the Florist Detectives' opinion, comparing these two types of flower gifts is similar to comparing bags of groceries with catered meals. In thoughtful gifting, the 'wow" factor cannot be overlooked.
The other eight purchases were all placed with affiliate resellers - brokers - which simply charged service fees and forwarded the orders to local New York florists for fulfillment. These brokers, located in Florida, California, Canada, Illinois and New York, are only as good as the local florists to whom their orders were forwarded. Note that this article labels the service charges as 'shipping fees' yet the arrangements were all hand-delivered, not shipped. The local delivery charges were included in the prices of the arrangements. That extra 'shipping' fee was merely a convenience charge.
Unfortunately, we believe consumers may be left with the impression that the New York results would be duplicated throughout the US. Each florist used by the brokers is independently owned and operated and will use different varieties and sizes of roses, different quality assurance practices, different vases and different design presentations.
Good Housekeeping , perhaps unknowingly, shopped the same company twice. Both virtualflowers.com and flower.com are owned and operated by the same LA-based affiliate reseller. They likely used the same local New York florist to fulfill both orders. Note: Late in 2004, ftd.com aquired roses.com (and its sister company florist.com) so purchases from those sites will now probably yield the same results.
In our opinion, the real help to consumers would have been to provide the names of the local New York Florists who delivered such attractive, long lasting arrangements. Readers could then have learned how to save the 'service' and 'shipping' fees and order direct from the source.