Business

Buying flowers online: Are you paying more and getting less?

Hillcrest Floral owner Nick Harrigfeld talks about the benefits of shopping local

Local florists are hassled by shady websites and call centers that act as an unnecessary, expensive middleman for customers.
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Local florists are hassled by shady websites and call centers that act as an unnecessary, expensive middleman for customers.

Mother’s Day is coming up. You always buy that special mom in your life a bouquet of roses. So this year, you go online to order. You click on one of the first search results for “Boise flower delivery.”

It’s a scenario that plays out with increasing frequency in the Treasure Valley, according to local florists. Flower buyers may not be getting what they expect when they order from virtual florists. And locally owned flower shops end up taking a hit when their customers overpay or have a botched order or a bad experience.

“I’m frustrated for my customer,” said Nick Harrigfeld, owner of Hillcrest Floral in Boise.

Flowers should be a joy. ... When someone sends flowers, you should be able to put a smile on someone’s face.

Nick Harrigfeld, owner of Hillcrest Floral

His shop opened almost 50 years ago — one of the first businesses in the Hillcrest shopping center at Orchard Street and Overland Road. It has a large staff of 13, but its business has changed. Today, half its orders come from various websites, including its own.

But more and more virtual companies are popping up online — some with websites or advertisements that superficially appear to be Boise-based, but actually are owned by out-of-state companies.

Many local florists have long been part of the wire service FTD, which takes a small percentage to process an order. But the new online-shopping universe has paved the way for new competitors.

For example, boise-florists.com says it is “Boise’s best online florist.” The website belongs to the same Washington state-based company that owns Gift Tree, which is among the companies that local florists say takes flower orders on its website.

AN EXTRA MIDDLEMAN

For years, florists have relied on formal and informal networks online and by phone to get flowers to moms around the world.

“Let’s say a flower shop in Colorado calls with a $70 order,” Harrigfeld said. “The customer is paying for a small relay fee and delivery charge on top of that, and that’s expected, there’s no hidden cost.”

But these days, the third-party virtual florists send their customers’ orders to local florists charging a much higher fee and sometimes mucking up orders for unwitting customers and florists alike. They might promise bouquets or specials that can’t be filled.

The result, say local florists: Customers can end up paying more and getting less. That sour experience is heightened because of the emotional reasons for sending flowers — sympathy, congratulations, love, appreciation, celebration.

“People are just getting very frustrated, and the people who are getting blamed are the flower shops,” he said. “Flowers should be a joy. ... When someone sends flowers, you should be able to put a smile on someone’s face.”

Shelley Terrill, owner of Boise At Its Best, began noticing more orders coming to her store from websites and call centers about seven or eight years ago.

“In the last few years, it’s gotten particularly bad,” she said.

It’s not just 1-800-Flowers, which one local florist called better than the rest because it uses a voluntary network called BloomNet. There are “probably 50” such companies, Harrigfeld said.

Three major virtual florists — Ava’s Flowers, Gift Tree and From You Flowers — could not be reached or did not respond to Statesman requests for comment.

Terrill said some of the virtual florists will “kind of trick people into thinking they’re spending $70 on an arrangement,” but a big chunk of that money is a fee, she said. The floral arrangement that arrives on a loved one’s doorstep ends up being a $40 bouquet — which is much smaller than the purchaser expected.

One of the biggest virtual florists says its business does support local retailers.

“We are proud to partner with the nation’s finest florists and actively promote and support them, as we are passionate in ensuring their businesses flourish,” said Yanique Woodall, vice president of enterprise public relations for New York-based 1-800-Flowers. “BloomNet is dedicated to helping grow the thousands of florists we work with nationwide with incremental orders that florists need to grow their local businesses.”

GETTING WISE TO IT

Terrill changed his store’s policy a year or two ago, in response to the hassles and unhappy customers. Now, before employees process an order from one of the many virtual florists, they go through the order to make sure they can match it and that it’s reasonably priced.

When Boise At Its Best can’t afford to make the bouquet based on what the middleman company is paying, the shop will respond to the company and say, “If you want it to look like the picture, we’re going to need more money.”

“We kind of have to fight with them,” Terrill said.

But the middleman companies are so prevalent now that local florists have to rely on them for a large volume of orders. They make up about one-third of Boise At Its Best’s business, for example.

Harrigfeld said he can’t really blame the third-party virtual florists. They saw demand for a service the public wants, and they’re capitalizing on it.

“They’re all trying to get a piece of the money,” he said. “We have to reinvent ourselves. That’s the key. And re-educate our customers.”

Audrey Dutton: 208-377-6448, @audreydutton

Be a smart flower shopper

▪  If you’re ordering online, poke around on the website. Is the company what it seems?

▪  Check reviews on the Better Business Bureau’s website. There’s lots of feedback.

▪  Not sure the best way to get flowers to someone out of town? Ask a florist you trust for a recommendation.

▪  Be skeptical when you see an online coupon for 25 percent off, or a large bouquet advertised for $29.95.

▪  Sounds like it’s too good to be true? It probably is.

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