How To Amaze Your Valentine Without Screwing Over Your Local Florist

Shopping online is simple: you see a picture of the thing that you want to buy, click on it, type in your credit card, and then that thing arrives on your doorstep or the doorstep of your gift recipient. This simplicity falls apart when it comes to ordering flowers online, which leads to plenty of disappointment. Here’s how to avoid that.

The floral wire services, FTD and Teleflora, were very relevant in 1910 and 1934 when they began, respectively. They let people place orders from faraway flower shops long before the Internet or credit cards existed. These companies, along with 1980s upstart 1-800-Flowers, now dominate the industry by advertising their national brand and squeezing local florists. While these companies, and mail-order services like Proflowers, blanket the airwaves and Web pages with ads showing off their great deals before major flower-giving holidays, they are not the best choice to get the best bloom for your buck.

We have long recommended that flower-givers follow this basic process:

1. Locate an actual florist in the town where the recipient lives. Be sure to avoid fake florists: seek out sites that publish their street addresses right on the website, not just a page that says “We deliver to Yonkers.”

2. Cross-reference this with Yelp or Google reviews to find out what local users’ experiences have been.

3. Consider calling the florist on the phone and placing the order directly so you can ask about what’s freshest and what they might recommend, barring any flower dislikes or allergies.

Why do you want to avoid the national sites? Consumerist spoke to Tina Semock, a florist in South Elgin, Illinois, who contacted us after we posted yet another flower order gone wrong.

Semock’s shop doesn’t use a wire service for online flowers. Her website is through FlowerShopNetwork, a company that charges florists a flat fee to provide a website and catalog photos. It’s similar to the services they can also get from a wire service, but without the problems that wire services cause for customers and florists alike.

What problems are those? An advertised deal for a dozen roses for $50 from a wire service, say, will only earn the local florist about $27. Sometimes florists end up losing money on orders. “The site will tack on a $10 or $15 ‘service fee,’ which you would think goes for delivery,” Semock explained. “That goes right in [the wire service’s] pocket. The florist doesn’t see any of that… You’re paying $20 or more just to place your order online.”

There are other platforms that can match you up with a solid local florist, too. One startup that’s trying to match flower-senders and florists up directly is BloomNation. Consumerist spoke to Gregg Weisstein, COO and co-founder of the site, about what they’re aiming to do. As awful as it is to say that a startup is “like an [existing site] for [different thing],” BloomNation is very much like an Etsy for florists.

Yes, that means that the photos you see on the catalog pages aren’t professionally lit and Photoshopped to perfection, but it also means that the photos that you see are very close to what the recipient is going to actually receive. While what’s in season and in stock might change slightly, the idea of the site is to show the “look and feel” of what will show up on your loved one’s doorstep. “Every photo that you see in the marketplace is a photo of a real product that that florist took,” Weisstein explained to Consumerist. There are no stock photos on the site.

It’s great for florists, too: shops that sell through the site get national exposure without exposing themselves to huge fees taken out of their orders, or user complaints when what arrives doesn’t look like a very unrealistic photo. “They’re getting national exposure, having customers find them who never would have found them before,” Weisstein told us about florists who sell on the site.

Here’s a feature that could prevent you from sending submissions to the Garden of Discontent: BloomNation encourages florists to send a picture of the actual arrangement to the sender right before delivery. This leads to a 72% increase in repeat customer orders to the same florist, Weisstein told us, and probably provides great peace of mind to the sender.

By the way, florist Tina Semock recommends that you place your Valentine’s Day orders at most three days or so out from the holiday…so right about now. (Consider this your reminder.) If you do need to place a last-minute order, consider calling instead of ordering online in order to make sure that what you want is in stock and fresh. You might not get red roses, but maybe you’ll send something even more unique.

BloomNation [National Site]
FlowerShopNetwork [National Site]