CLEVELAND - Love is in the air, but will your loved one be in love with the arrangement you order? Will you be in love with the price?
"The whole thing becomes blurred and muddy and the consumer is really at risk out there unless they know who they are doing business with," Edward Wrobel of Orban's Gift-O-Fruit & Flowers said.
Orban's has been in business 90 years. Over the years, it's been tougher for local florists to stand out as the field fills with online florists who make themselves appear local.
"Cleveland's One Stop Flower Shoppe" is the top listing for Cleveland flowers online, but it's located thousands of miles away in Vancouver, Wash.
"You have to be very very cautious," Wrobel said.
The online industry is filled with middlemen. Some charge you more than others for the convenience of ordering online.
Flower companies put to the test
To find out who delivers the most bang for your buck, we put three companies to the test. We placed two orders online for the same $39.99 Fun & Flirty arrangement. We ordered it through 1-800-FLOWERS and Akron-based Blooms by Home .
We also placed a $40 order the old fashioned way, by phone. We called Al Wilhelmy Flowers .
We had one price point for all three florists, but we we ended up with three different totals. That's to be expected because tax rates and delivery fees vary. However, one order stood out as the most expensive.
With 1-800-FLOWERS, you pay a $12.99 or $14.99 service charge on your order. As a consumer, this is itemized at checkout. To see it earlier, you have to click "Details" under the claim, "Designed by our local florist. Hand-arranged and personally delivered."
That's where you'll also see that delivery is included in the price of the merchandise, but that may not be the bargain you think it is.
If you place a $39.99 order, Wrobel says, "It will come to me as a $32 or $33 order with a $7 delivery charge. Total $40."
We showed Orban's the flowers we ordered to see who gave us the best value.
"This one would stand out," Wrobel said pointing to the order we placed with Al Wilhelmy over the phone.
"You're allowing the florist to be creative. You're going to get a better value than holding them to a recipe," Wrobel explained.
Floral recipes are supposed to ensure consumers get what they see pictured online. Just like with cooking recipes, you don't always get the same result.
The two Fun & Flirty arrangements varied in design and flowers. The 1-800-FLOWERS arrangement was full all the way around and the Blooms by Home design was one-dimensional. It was flat on the back side.
Plus, the 1-800-FLOWERS arrangement didn't come with the Gerbera flowers pictured online. Instead, we got an extra rose and carnation.
"I don't think you got ripped off," Wrobel said.
Maybe not a ripoff, but the online orders were not the winners in our test.
Online shoppers can't always guarantee "who" fills their order
"We've actually sat down and tried to figure out how to do it without a wire service but unfortunately you can't," Blooms by Home co-owner Robert Kullman said.
The doors at Blooms by Home are still open a few months into their new venture, but it's not because business is coming through the front door. Orders like ours are coming in online.
"There's three major wire services generally and when you go to a florist they generally have one," Kullman said.
It means consumers never truly know "who" will fill their online order. Blooms by Home sent our order to a florist closer to Cleveland. To get the best value, ask questions and know whom you're truly showing love.
Avoiding the middleman
If you have to order flowers for out of town delivery, there are ways to avoid the middleman. You can take advantage of the networks these florists belong to, by calling your local florist and asking for a referral in another city.
Then call that florist directly to place the order.
"We reciprocate. We send them orders. They send us orders," Wrobel explained.
Another option is to find a florist through an association like the Society of American Florists . The organization puts together a list of florists by location.
Questions to ask when ordering
When you call and place an order directly, you don't always know how the arrangement will look. There is some risk if you're picky. There are some simple questions you can ask to get a better idea for the arrangement that will be designed.
First, ask if the order comes in a vase or basket? If it comes in a vase, florists say you can expect a taller arrangement. A basket will give you a wider design. Also, ask what flowers will be used or give the florist some ideas for color and variety.