Be Wary of the Yellow Pages
Can't see the Real Local Florists for the Weeds?
Many of us remember when the yellow pages were a valuable resource for providing relevant information when searching for local service providers. Well, the information on local florists is still there - but only if you dig deep, real deep, and know where and how to look.
We'll highlight the pitfalls of trying to find local florists on various versions of print and internet yellow pages.
We searched for a florist in Chattanooga, TN and were presented with this results page:
Of the first nine listings, only one is a real florist in Chattannoga. Florist.com, listed with three local Tennessee zip codes, is wholly owned and operated by FTD of Downers Grove IL. Florist.com has no physical presence in Tennessee and just gathers orders, charges an extra $11.99 convenience fee, takes a %27-29% commission and sends orders back to real local florists.
We'd like to know why AT&T and FTD think it's honest to use local zip codes, implying the operation of a local business, across the US in their listings. Would YellowPages.com do the same for Travelocity, Priceline.com and other companies that just broker local services? We haven't seen it.
The page also contains local Chattanooga area phone numbers that forward to a call center in New Jersey run by an operation called Flowers With Gifted Elegance. You can read more about their national-level scams on our fake local florists locations page and at RipOffReport.com.
Whether you select Florist.com or Flowers With Gifted Elegance, you reach a not-in-Chattanooga call center, pay an added service fee and have a substantial commission removed from your order. So much for YellowPages.com being a trusted resource....
We searched for a Nashville florist and got this page:
Promises of fictional 'savings' and a bold proclamation of "Nashville Florist" by a Canadian call center fill this page. None of the companies claiming to 'deliver' actually ever handles or delivers your flowers. Each are brokers - order gatherers - positioned to take your flower orders destined for Nashville, tack on fees ranging from about $10-$20, remove commissions and send the requests for floral gifts back to real Nashville florists to fill and deliver.
None of these order gatherers can confirm when your flowers are delivered - since they never see or deliver them. Save yourself the middleman mark-up and scroll down through the SuperPages.com listings to check out real local florists with physical addresses in Nashville.
Print Yellow Pages
Here's a quick quiz - If you're in Los Angeles, which one of these ads is for your local florist?
The answer - neither.
These full page ads, running in numerous Yellow Pages across the US, are actually for the same 'company' - Flowers Sent Today of Haymarket, Virginia - which will gladly 'serve' your local community by charging you a $12.95 and up 'service charge' and flip your orders back to local florists for fulfillment and delivery. As added incentive, they are rumored to receive an $8.00 per order bounty/rebate from FTD. (FTD's rules actually prohibit members from using their trademarked logo when marketing outside an area directly serviced unless advertisements include "a clear, conspicuous and prominent statement of the shop's name and actual city and state location." So much for the rules and their selective enforcement...)
The US Federal Trade Commission issued a document, Advertising and Marketing on the Internet: Rules of the Road, which states the following:
Advertising must tell the truth and not mislead consumers.
Advertising agencies or website designers are responsible for reviewing the information used to substantiate ad claims. They may not simply rely on an advertiser's assurance that the claims are substantiated. In determining whether an ad agency should be held liable, the FTC looks at the extent of the agency's participation in the preparation of the challenged ad, and whether the agency knew or should have known that the ad included false or deceptive claims.
Would a reasonable consumer expect that an advertiser was located in a city when presented with that information in a city search using one of these advertisers?
Many Yellow Page companies accept print advertising from affiliate/broker marketers located hundreds if not thousands of miles from your intended gift destination. They exploit the terms "serving", feature wire service logos, and even use the phrase 'we deliver' which implies they actually create and...um...deliver... the arrangements in the ad's area. (We think this is highly deceptive and hope a government agency will intervene on the behalf of all hard-working local florists and put a stop to this tactic.)
These affiliate companies often collect a shipping/service/handling fee and then flip the order back to a local florist. (In many cases, the local florists have no idea that you were fooled.)
The Federal Trade Commission issued an article about some of these deceptive ruses. We believe the major wire services have the ability to stop this practice by suspending members for using deceptive ads. So far, they have not seemed inclined, and since they earn a 7% commission on each order sold this way and operate the call centers used by some of these order gatherers...
To help yourself from becoming a victim of these misleading practices be sure to check for
- a local address
- a local phone number
- when ordering online, call the phone number and ask where the business is located.
- be alert for operators telling you that have a 'branch store' in a distant city. Ask for the name and phone number of the branch and call them direct.
- ask that all charges be itemized - flowers, delivery and 'service charge' if any.
- if you are charged a 'service' charge (as opposed to or in addition to a local delivery charge) you're likely dealing with an affiliate reseller/broker. Hang up and call a local florist.
If you are aware of similar incidences or feel you have been a victim of this kind of deceptive advertising, file a complaint so other consumers won't get weeds mixed in with their flowers. Let us know about it, too.