Florist Detectives. Consumer Information about alleged deceptive and misleading florist advertising and marketing practices.

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All About Order Gathering

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Today's City Watch is Detroit, Michigan.

Let's have a look at the results a surfer will get using 'florist in Detroit' on Google, 'Detroit florist' on Yahoo and 'florist in Detroit' on MSN.

Take a look at the pages and try to guess which florists are actually in Detroit. Answers and explanations are provided at the bottom of this page.

What is Order Gathering?

The term 'order gatherer' was coined several years ago to describe floral service marketers, both real and virtual, that aggressively promote the sale of flower arrangements and related gifts which they intend to broker to local florists for fulfillment, primarily via affiliations with national florist wire services.

Why Local Florists Oppose Most Forms of Order Gathering

Real local florists' concerns about some of the order gatherers' commonly used advertising practices occur on several counts including:

  • the use of misleading ad titles and text that confuse consumers by featuring specific city names - when the order gatherers do not operate local flower shops that directly service the locations and where their sites or print ads fail to clearly inform consumers as to how these orders are 'serviced.'
  • the use of city-specific website pages with text crafted to confuse consumers by targeting city names - when the order gatherers do not operate local flower shops in the vicinity and fail to clearly explain how they 'service' these areas.
  • the use of the phrase 'we delivery to' when the brokers only 'relay to' or 'forward to' local florists for fulfillment, implying a service which they do not provide.
  • the failure to itemize and explain all fees to consumers, making price comparisons difficult.
  • the fraudulent claiming of 'free delivery.'
  • the failure to inform consumers that delivery charges will be deducted from the value of dollars sent to local florists.

Once consumers have placed their orders, additional internal network issues come into play, including:

  • the failure of some affiliates to properly forward all required fees, especially those labeled ''delivery charges', to the actual florists that deliver the products.
  • the cloaking of transferred orders to local florists behind real florist business names and/or master accounts of national wire services. The Florist Detectives believe that cloaking the origination of orders has helped hide deceptive marketing practices, the use of false location information and the skimming of order values; which in turn has prevented the information from being exposed to consumers, state and federal regulatory agencies, and the wire services themselves.
  • the wire services' payment of bounties - rebates - in dollar amounts that exceed their commissions earned from these orders, to subsidize the affiliate marketing schemes on a grand scale. These rebates, rumored to be as high as $8.00 USD per order, provide additional funds for order gatherers to increase their range and saturation of marketing; overshadowing the efforts of local florists that play by the wire services' own rules to member florists.

Why We Believe Consumers Are Not Well Served

When a gatherer/broker accepts your order over the web or via a Yellow Page ad, the company can provide little guarantee that your selection will be filled exactly 'as sold' if it is being transferred to a local florist for fulfillment. Many sites feature licensed wire service images and only hope that they can find a local affiliate that has the item, or something close to it, in current inventory.

The gatherers don't truly know if the amount charged the consumer is adequate to meet the customary price of the local flower shop - including delivery charges - since they are simply brokering the order.

Consumer may have chosen a flower arrangement based on the vase displayed or a specific flower type featured, yet many orders are transferred to local florists with vague descriptions and/or instructions stating 'fill as similar as possible' - leaving both a disappointed sender and recipient.

The average 'service fee' of $11.00 USD, a privilege fee charged just for forwarding orders to local florists, boosts the cost to consumers, giving the appearance that florist-delivered flowers are higher priced than they need be.

We spotted an interesting blog entry about a Valentine's Day flower shopping experience that highlighted some common misunderstandings by consumers regarding the level of control of inventory and price charged by national order gatherers, in this case FTD.com. A wise Butler, PA florist offered what is in our opinion a great explanation as to why consumers are better off with a local florist and the likely reasons why the order could not be fulfilled by FTD.com via its affiliate florist network.

To further make the point, we also recommend reading this consumer's comparisson between 1-800-Flowers.com and his local florist as well as an explanation of how FTD.Com For Flowers Ruined My Weekend by Jupiter Media CEO, Alan Meckler.

When Order Gathering Does Work

Does order gathering have a legitimate role? Certainly. Some consumers want a one-stop shop to handle all their floral needs, regardless of location. Most local florists actually provide those services, by the way. 'National' broker companies as well as local florists may offer occasion reminder services, consolidated billing, frequent purchaser discounts and rewards programs. In these cases, the consumers are getting exactly what they ask for and expect.

A story about grateful supporters sending 4500 Valentine's Day roses to California Senator Barbara Boxer recently made national news. CoasttoCoastFlorist.com, an affiliate marketer that also operates a real flower shop in Sarasota, Fl, was contacted by an individual about the idea of handling these 'thank you' orders, which would be phoned-in from all over the United States.

The Florist Detectives wrote to the idea’s originator and inquired about how and why she selected a Florida-based company to handle a delivery in the Washington, DC area. She replied that she originally found CoasttoCoastFlorist.com by Googling for 'national florist' and that their ad was the first name in the search engine results.

The Boxer-supporter stated that she was very pleased with both CoasttoCoastFlorist.com’s level of customer service and their ability to handle the consolidation of an order on this scale. There are very few companies that could handle the volume of calls - more than 1500 - generated by this project, especially during the busy Valentine's Day holiday period. In this case, the gathering of orders was an appropriate decision, both on the part of the idea's originator and the affiliate marketer.

That being said, the Florist Detectives believe there is a big difference between consumers looking for national order consolidation and those seeking local florists with which to place their orders direct. Which brings us back to Austin...

The Real Detroit Area Florists - observations on November 15, 2006

Please note that search engine results can change daily, even hourly.

Google - The 'sponsored links' lure shopper with ad titles and copy which includes 'Detroit's Finest Florist', 'Florist in Detroit' and 'local florist' but some of the 'sponsors' - paid advertisers - are actually located far, far away.

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MSN - The natural listings include a few real local florists but the results are still full of not-in-Boston call centers and order gatherers.

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Which are the real Detroit Area Florists on those pages?

Grace Harper Florist, Blumz by JR Designs, Viviano Flower Shop, and we'd like to add the group of florists listed in YourLocalFlorist.org.

The Florist Detectives give Yahoo! our Most Improved Search Engine Award for their set of results.

Feel like you just played Flower Shop Roulette?

We believe you shouldn't have to play this game to find a local florist. No doubt, local florists could do a better job of advertising on the web. Many of them pay the wire services - the very companies offering bounties to order gatherers - to handle this.

But consumers should be able to trust that if ads or websites says 'we deliver to Detroit', 'florist in Detroit' or 'we're you're Detroit florist' that the statements are really true.

Are these types of ads illegal? We don't know. Are they deceptive and misleading? We believe they are and look to the wire services, the search engines that accept these misleading ads, and state and federal regulators to help clean this up on behalf of consumers and local florists. Consumers have the right to know if they are purchasing from a real local flower shop that will physically deliver their order or if they're dealing with an agent/broker who markets to them with intent to pass their order on to another company for fulfillment.

The Florist Detectives recommend shoppers use one of the many resources we provide to find local florists. There are more than hundreds real florists that operate stores in the Detroit, MI Metro area.

If you would like to nominate your city to be featured in our City Watch, please email us with your suggestion and tell us why you think it would make good choice.