Ordering flowers off the Internet is a bit like online dating: When you see them in person, they don't always match their profile picture.
“There was this one Valentine’s Day that I ordered my girlfriend a flower bouquet that was supposed to be in the shape of a dog,” says James Stobie of Portland, Oregon. “It arrived so smashed it looked like a melted cake.”
Online forums are rife with similar horror stories with puny arrangements and missing flowers, leaving customers disappointed and embarrassed. With Americans predicted to spend a record $18.9 billion on Valentine's Day gifts this year, they'd like to get what they're paying for.
The problem, experts say, is that you might be ordering from a name-brand national site, but the order is getting fulfilled by any one of thousands of local florists. Quality control issues can crop up.
Gregg Weisstein, co-founder and COO of Bloom Nation, a startup that provides an online platform for local florists says that typically, when buying from a large national flower site, the customer doesn’t know which florist is fulfilling the order and thus doesn’t have much say in the matter.
“The random florist that gets routed the order may be the worst florist in the area or a florist who doesn’t even have the flowers [the customer] purchased on hand,” Weisstein says.
Depending on the region, these companies could be tapping one of “3,000 florists or more,” said Sucharita Mulpuru, a Forrester Research analyst.
So if your wife’s delivery was three stargazer lilies shy of what you actually ordered, the florist may have run out, or didn’t have them to begin with.
To avoid that scenario, Mulpuru recommends reading customer reviews of the online flower site.
Another recurring source of complaints are arrangements that arrive where the flowers haven't fully blossomed.
Yanique Woodall, a spokeswoman for 1-800-Flowers.com, said the company strives to deliver the flowers in “ready-to-bloom form” so that recipients can “enjoy the floral arrangement as it blooms over time.”
Should your flowers arrive still hiding in their petals, try popping them in warm water, said Shomit Barua, a former florist and floral designer.
“You can control the speed at which the flowers open by the temperature of the environment and temperature of the water,” said Barua. “Cold [makes for] slower blooming and longer life. Warm water will help the flowers pop open more.”