Buying flowers on the Internet may seem like a quick and easy way to let your special someone know you're thinking about them, but some Vermont florists say deceptive order gathering tactics have become increasingly wide-spread online.
"We've just noticed that there's a lot of Internet sites that use the word local, and if a consumer is looking at those very quickly they could think they're using a local florist and they are not," said Janet Murnane, Director of Consumer Assistance with the Vermont Attorney General's office.
When you go to a search engine like Google and type in "Florist Burlington Vermont," many people click on the first couple of sites that pop up. Now, many of these sites are actually larger, "order gathering" companies that claim to be local. So how does this work exactly?
"This is Google ad words. Google is partly to fault because they enable this to happen because they allow people to buy names. You can buy the name Burlington. You can buy the names florist. Put the two and you have Burlington florist and you'll show up," said Steve Juiffre, Co-owner of Chappell's Florist Shop in South Burlington.
Once the order is placed on one of these sites, it does not go directly to a local shop you have just supposedly ordered from, but to a wire service. "By the time the order gets to a florist in Vermont, or anywhere in the country, they are only getting paid 73 cents on the dollar for that order, and in some cases we know for a fact that some of these orders gatherers don't even send all the money along that they originally took for the arrangement, they may actually skim some money off the top," Juiffre said.
Juiffre says deceptive tactics not only hurt local businesses but are hurting consumers wallets as well. By the time you add up all of the extra charges the order gatherers pile on, buyers are paying far more than what they would with a truly local florist.
He helped get a Vermont law passed making the misrepresentation of a floral business as local -- illegal, but he says enforcement is not easy. The AG's office says it is working to alert non-local floral companies about the new law.
The Attorney General's Consumer Assistance Program is asking consumers who find florists claiming to be physically local, and are not, to file a complaint on-line at www.uvm.edu/consumer.
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