Order Gatherers: A Customer’s Perspective

Flower_shop I set out to write Flower Confidential from the point of view of an ordinary customer who is passionate about flowers and wants to know more about where they come from.  (That worked out well, because it happens to be who I actually am!)

So the other day I had the opportunity to once again be one of those "regular customers"–but now I know quite a bit more about the floral industry than many regular customers do.  And I ran straight into the very controversial issue of what’s called "order gathering."

The industry describes an "order gatherer" as a company that pretends to be a local florist, but is actually a national service that simply takes your order, passes it on to a local florist, and pockets a commission or service fee.  At its best, a service like this could make it easy for you to call just one number to get your flower order taken care of, saving you the effort of hunting for a florist in that city, but at its worst, a service like this could charge your credit card and never pass the order on to a florist.  You might also get less flowers for your money because part of your order is eaten up by fees.  (To read more about order gatherers, go here or here.

Now, I have mentioned here that I really love bbrooks fine flowers, a national network of specialty florists that will take your order and pass it on to one of its members.  But for whatever reason, when my husband’s grandmother was in the hospital, I just wanted to call a florist near the hospital, figure out what they had it stock that Grandma would like, and leave it at that.

Here’s how it went:

First, I look around online for the website of a florist near the hospital.  It takes a while, because most of the websites I find seem to be generic order-gatherer type websites with names like "Fremont Florist" and no local address or phone number that I can find.

Finally, I find a florist with a real local address.  The website looks a little generic, but I understand why a florist would just sign up for a service that provided a semi-personalized website based around some basic template.  But still, if the website didn’t have such a canned look, I would have been even more sure that I’d found a "real" florist.  I even go to the trouble to Google the florist’s name and see her mentioned in a couple of newspaper articles about local businesses.  OK, I’m pretty sure we’ve got a live one.

Second, I call the florist rather than order online.  I want to send a flowering plant to Grandma and I’d prefer lavender but I’d take a potted hydrangea and regardless, I wanna talk about it.  The woman who answers the phone uses the name of the actual florist, not "Flower Shop" or something fake-sounding like that.  So far, so good.

Clearly this woman is not sure what’s in stock, but OK.  I state my preferences and give her the address of the hospital.  When she asks me to spell "Paseo," I pause.  There is not a person in California who does not know how to spell Paseo.  I said, "Are you in California?"  and she said, "No, I’m in Oregon.  Mrs. (what’s her name) hires us to answer her phones."

OK, fine.  I’m halfway through this thing already.  Besides, I understand–the florist is busy and maybe this service is cheaper than hiring someone to answer the phone in her shop.  I finish my order, but I’m not happy.

Third, I never get an e-mail that my plant arrived, even though they asked me for my e-mail address so I could get confirmation.  So I call the place and somehow I manage to get through to an actual person in the shop.  And at last, all is well!  "Oh yes," she says cheerfully.  "I had some potted lavender, so I put it in a basket and I put some yellow butterflies in there too and when we went to drop it off, she was out of her room, but we left it at the nurses’ station and they said we had the right place and they would be sure to give it to her."

Perfect!  That’s all I wanted!  And let me just say–yellow butterflies?  You know Grandma better than I do.  I later heard from the family that as they were wheeling Grandma back into her room, she saw the plant at the nurses’ station and said, "Oh, that had to come from Scott and Amy–it looks just like them!"

See?  That’s all I want!

Some in the industry are working to pass legistation against fraudulent phone directory or Internet listings, and I can’t blame them–florists are already getting the squeeze from all sides, and the last thing they need is someone else advertising themselves as "Your Local Florist" when they’re not.