Keep it real, Valentine! (How to avoid getting ripped off when you order flowers online)

Now through Feb 14, millions of customers will order flowers online. And on Feb 15, thousands of those customers will go back online to post photos of the terrible flowers they received, and nightmare stories of orders gone wrong.

The most common complaints I see about online orders are “this looks nothing like the picture”, “I paid a premium price for this cheap arrangement” and “my order never even arrived”!

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(photo from expectationvsreality.net)

I will bet you dollars to doughnuts most of these complaints are due to order gatherers. And I‘m a big  fan of dollars and doughnuts, so this is serious stuff.

An order gatherer is a company that sells flowers online or at a toll free number, but they aren’t actually florists. 1-800-Flowers? Justflowers.com?  Those are call centres. They take your money, take a 20-30% cut, and then forward your order to a local florist…who then has to subtract HST and the delivery driver’s fee from your reduced total before they even start working on your flowers.

Have a complaint? Need a refund?

Unfortunately, the local florist who ends up sending your flowers has no access to your original order or payment information.  We only know the dollar amount, verbal order, and company credit card the order-gatherer gives us.  You will have to go through them for refunds to your credit card.  And since they have no local reputation to lose… guess how interested they are in winning you back as a happy customer?

Many florists won’t accept orders from order-gatherers, because of their lowball pricing.  If your order is bounced around to every shop in town and no one will take it, does the order-gatherer call you, refund your money, and give you enough time to make other arrangements to get a gift delivered?

Nooooope.

It wouldn’t be such a problem if these companies were upfront about who they are and what they do. But because they don’t have to deal with the overhead of coolers, flowers, and design staff, they apparently have a lot of time and money to spend on some really greasy marketing tactics! I don’t mean “I am a Nigerian prince, give me your account number” or “Dermatologists hate her” scams, this is some nefarious stuff, and it can even trick experienced internet users and online shoppers.

I personally saw Justflowers.com piggyback on the google place page for a shop where I worked.  A customer called us on Valentine’s day, upset not to get a 10% discount as advertised. There was a popup ad with ‘click here for 10%off sale’ on our page… but the actual link redirected to Justflowers.com!

Apparently an order gatherer called Proflowers paid for google ads targeting specific local flower shops, claiming the  local shops were sold out on Feb 14th! (there’s an article here http://www.brandchannel.com/home/post/2012/02/15/valentines-florist-flubs-021512.aspx)

Order gatherers will even snap up domain names like [cityname]flowers.com and create a website to make themselves look like a local business!   When I was starting up my studio, I found a new listing for a florist on a residential street where I wasn’t aware of a flower shop or a florist working from home.  I called their phone number, had a very weird conversation with the person who answered, and then did a reverse lookup on their number.  Turns out this Kingston area business was actually my good buddies Justflowers.com in Los Angeles!

As a small indie florist who does most of my business online, I need to take a stand against these companies.  They make people mistrust online ordering in general and the floral industry in particular. If I fill orders for them and my customers are dissatisfied, I can’t offer them refunds or replacement flowers without paying out of my own pocket.

And on Valentine’s day, the stakes are already high for both florists and our customers. We’re paying premium prices and we only have one chance to get it right.

Here’s how to avoid an order gatherer when shopping online:

1. Beware pricing that’s too good to be true. 10% off on Valentine’s Day? IT’S A TRAP! I pay 250% to 300% more for red roses this week than at other times of year. There is no way I can sell them for a discount and still be in business by Feb 15th.

2. Take a look at the content on their site: how about that ‘about’ page? Do they have a twitter feed, facebook page, and blog ? Do you get the impression that there is a real personality behind this operation?(Bonus:  a real florist will feature photos of their actual designs in an online gallery or facebook album,  instead of just the  standardized Teleflora or FTD catalogue,  so  you can get an idea of their style and avoid ‘what I ordered vs what I got’ disappointment)

3.Check their testimonials and reviews.  Five hundred glowing, gushing, five- star reviews posted within days of each other, all written in the same not-terribly-literate style?  MAJOR RED FLAG.

4. Google streetview!  I don’t have a brick and mortar shop, so I could be doing myself a disservice with this tip, but when you’re sending your money off into the interwebs, you want to be as confident as possible that you will get what you pay for.  I once found a Quebec florist for a customer using google streetview- the google car had captured a lady leaving their shop with a really nice bouquet!

5. Ideally, give your florist a buzz or shoot them an email. Does a human being answer you? Are they able to give you information about exactly what they have in stock and exactly how it will be delivered?

Mistakes happen, and most florists are running on 2 hours’ sleep and a coffee drip IV by the time Valentine’s Day rolls around. But if you make sure you are ordering directly from your florist, you will get more bang for your buck, and you will be able to talk to someone  who cares about your flowers and customer satisfaction in the event of any questions or complaints.

Keep it real, darlings! I wish you all a fun and romantic Feb 14th.

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