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Sending Valentine's Day flowers? Where to find the best value

Feb. 7, 2013 at 2:55 PM ET

BeverlyLR / SXC /

By Kara Reinhardt, Cheapism.com

America’s sweethearts and suitors will spend more than $1.9 billion on flowers this Valentine’s Day, according to an annual survey by the National Retail Federation. Online flower retailers compete for the holiday windfall with daily deals and sales on no-brainer bundles that include candy and teddy bears. However, in a recent comparison of the major players promising cheap flower delivery, Cheapism.com encountered a mountain of negative reviews. Enlisting a local florist may require a bit more effort but prove a better value for the money.

Online or off, sending flowers is a somewhat risky business: A Valentine’s Day bouquet doesn’t do much good if it arrives on Feb. 15. Nor do a dozen roses if the petals are drooping and browning at the edges. Such scenarios turn up far more often than you might think in online reviews of flower delivery sites. In a recent study by J.D. Power and Associates, a full 15 percent of consumers reported problems with shipping when buying flowers online, compared with just 7 percent for apparel and 5 percent for shoes. Reviewers also rail against extra fees that appear just before purchase and arrangements that scarcely resemble online photos. Cheapism’s Teleflora review tells of one case where an order for a dozen long-stemmed roses yielded a mixed bouquet of carnations, lilies, and only three roses.

To be sure, local florists aren’t above reproach, especially on one of their busiest days of the year. Still, they can design bouquets around available inventory, suggest the best blooms for the price, and be held accountable if an arrangement doesn’t meet expectations. They may even charge less than online flower retailers. Cheapism compared prices for standard, non-Valentine’s Day delivery of a dozen red roses and came up with an estimate of about $50 for local flower delivery vs. $59 to $86 online. That’s based on quotes from florists in New York City and California -- hardly inexpensive markets -- and input from the Society of American Florists, the industry’s national trade association. The savings over four major flower sites ranged from 15 to 40 percent.

Of course, prices vary depending on the location and the blooms you choose and may be lower online. But even then, as Cheapism’s FTD review explains, flower delivery sites often rely on local florists to fulfill orders. By contacting a local shop directly, you can cut out any fees that might accrue to a middleman and wind up with a better bouquet for the same price. Searching on Yelp or Google Maps should lead you to well-reviewed florists near the intended recipient. You can also try the Society of American Florists’ National Florist Directory.

If the convenience of online ordering remains too attractive to resist, ProFlowers tops the list of online flower retailers in J.D. Power and Associates’ report on customer satisfaction. Cheapism’s ProFlowers review also found that the site earns slightly better feedback than the competition. Be sure to note, however, that the bouquet will likely arrive in a box via FedEx -- perhaps not the grand entrance you’re hoping to orchestrate.

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