What Happens When You Place a Valentine’s Day Flower Order?

The answer to this question should be pretty simple: the flowers you ordered show up, looking great, to the address you requested.  Does this happen?  Of course it does.  Does this happen all the time?  Not even close.

Whether or not you ultimately decide that Flower Muse is the best source for your Valentine’s Day gift is not our main point today (although, of course, we’d love it if you made that decision in the affirmative).  What’s most important today is pulling back the curtain on the flower “industry” so that all our friends and clients (and, hopefully, a lot of your friends too) understand what happens when you order flowers for Valentine’s Day (online).  There are several different retail flower business models out there and understanding the pros and cons of each is vitally important to making sure that you get the best Valentine’s Day experience for you and your valentine.

If you are looking to order flowers online, or by phone, text or app this Valentine’s Day, you’ve got three basic types of businesses to choose from:

  • So called flower “wire services” which relay your order to a network of florists
  • “Warehouse” direct flowers (flowers sent in a box from a warehouse somewhere in the US)
  • Farm direct flowers (flowers sent from a farm)

The vast majority of Valentine’s Day Orders will flow from either wire service websites themselves or through “order gathering” sites which in turn send your order to wire service websites.  What does this mean to you?  Well, to begin, it means you are going to see a lot of ads for big national brands pretty much everywhere you look (be it Google text ads or huge banners ads on sites like www.nytimes.com) for Valentine’s Day flowers from the wire services and the largest order gatherers.  You will see a lot of well photographed (and, sometimes, Photoshopped) bouquets and flowers and be tempted by many different discount offers.  That’s all well and good because most of these companies are great marketers; that’s why they are still in business.  What’s a little less clear though is what really happens to your flowers order?  In short, what happens from the moment you place your order until your flowers are delivered?

Let’s take the example of the order gatherer website feeding into a wire service network as the most common example.  First, you find a site and an item that you want to purchase.  You complete the checkout process and get a confirmation email with the details of what you’ve ordered, where it is going and when it will arrive.  At that time, the order gatherer takes their cut / commission on the order (typically 20% of the order value in addition to a “rebate”, which some might call a “kick back”, from the wire service) and sends the order to the wire service network.  The wire service steps in takes their commission on the order (typically 7% or so if the order is coming in from an order gatherer or 27% if the order comes in from the wire service’s own site) and then places the order with a florist in the network to deliver the final product.  It seems pretty simple, right?  Yes…and no.

The great part about ordering from companies like this is that you can typically get almost any order delivered the same or next day – they have great lead times.  The downside to this model, however, is that the wire service networks don’t typically have good information (in fact, most have zero information) about what flowers their network of florists have in stock.  For example, let’s say you order lavender roses for Valentine’s Day via this model, it’s highly likely that the order will end up with a florist who has no lavender roses in stock.  Because of the substitution policies of most of the wire service companies (i.e., the “fine print”), it’s perfectly acceptable for the florist to send your gift out with roses of another color or a different type of lavender flower.  For those of us that want to make sure our Valentine gets exactly what we ordered for them, this is a huge problem.  This is also the proverbial wizard behind the curtain for flower wire services.  There’s really no guarantee that you are going to get what you order.  In addition, the florists who are members of these networks also have their own business (the non-wire service portion) to worry about and are much more likely to want to sell flowers themselves rather than receive “discounted” (remember those commissions that the order gatherers and wire service took off your order?) orders.  To keep the math simple, if you buy a $100 arrangement from a wire service site, you’ll probably end up paying $120 or so total after their “service fee” is applied.  The wire service keeps the service fee as well as 27% of the $100 value ($27), so the florist who actually sends the order out ends up trying to send out $100 worth of flowers even though they are only being paid $73 by the wire service.  When you look at those numbers, it’s no wonder that many wire services have a hard time getting all their orders out for Valentine’s Day.  In fact, every year, there are thousands of customers whose Valentines  don’t get their flowers at all.  Worse yet, there’s almost no quality control on the flowers themselves in this model, so in addition to potentially receiving the incorrect flower, there’s a very decent probability that the flowers going out will not be as fresh as possible.

“Warehouse direct” flower companies offer a slightly simpler model than wire services.  Rather than sending flowers out via a network of florists, these companies send flowers out in boxes from one or more warehouse locations to your Valentine’s door.  Using one of these companies drastically increases the chances that your Valentine will actually receive the exact flowers you ordered because the company is not relying on a network of florists (about which it has no information regarding which flowers are in stock) to send your gift out.  In addition, the flowers traveling through this model are generally fresher than flowers going out from a wire service.  You’ll also notice that these companies generally advertise lower prices than most of the wire services.  Sounds great, right?  Any downside to ordering from these companies?  There are a couple of cons that do warrant consideration.  One, many of these companies have a lot of extra fees that get tacked on to the final price, so while the price of the flowers may seem fantastically low, once you add on the “service” and shipping fees, the prices tend to rise considerably.  In addition, the flowers coming out of companies using this model follow the “old” or “traditional” supply chain where they travel from a farm to an importer, to a warehouse and then finally to you.  As a result, they are not nearly as fresh as flowers coming directly from a farm.  This does not mean that these flowers won’t last longer than you might expect.  We tend to have horrendously low expectations for flowers in the US!

Farm direct flowers, as long as you are dealing with a company that really follows this model (many companies conveniently refer to their warehouse as “the farm”), send flowers directly from the farm to your Valentine’s door.  There’s no doubt that flowers coming from the farm last longer (this is backed up by a study at the University of Florida).  What should you look for in a farm direct flower company and what are the cons of buying this way?  First off, fresher flowers are always better flowers when you are making an apples-to-apples comparison, but there are certainly farms out there that don’t grow good flowers.  If the flower does start off in good shape, it doesn’t matter how fresh it is; it’s still not a good flower.  Beyond this, farm direct flowers (and warehouse direct flowers) require a little more work from the recipient.  They have to be cut and put in water since they don’t arrive in a vase with water in it.  They also come in a box that has to be disposed of after the flowers have been taken out of it.  In return for this extra work, the recipient gets longer lasting (and typically more) flowers to enjoy well beyond the holiday.  When you buy from a farm direct source, you also typically get access to a much larger variety of flowers and arrangements.  Try finding interesting calla lily offerings from any of the wire service or warehouse direct companies – they just don’t have them.  Finally, ordering farm direct flowers will pretty much invariably save money.  In cases where you are ordering a gift of a less common flower (calla lilies, peonies, etc.), you will save a lot of money.  A lot as in hundreds of dollars.  For example, ordering something like 50 calla lilies could easily cost $300+ through a traditional retailer, but only costs $119.99 from one farm direct source (Flower Muse, of course).

At the end of the day, there are pros and cons to each of the models above and, as a consumer, you’ve got to figure out what matters most to you when deciding on a Valentine’s Day gift.  Since we are a farm direct company, our feelings on the matter are pretty clear.  We’re committed to bringing the absolute best flowers to each and every order for the holiday (and every other day, for that matter).  When you order from Flower Muse, you will get exactly what you order, it will be grown by one of our family of farms who we believe are the best at what they do and we’ll top it off with “obsessive” customer service.  Those are the things that matter most to us.  If you want to send a Valentine’s Day gift that will provide the maximum time to enjoy the flowers, we promise that we are a great fit for you.  If, on the other hand, you are looking for delivery in a vase (or a vase with a celebrity endorsement or something like that), we’re not the choice for you.  As people who are really invested in growing flowers, what matters most is that as many people as possible have great Valentine’s Day experiences and get to experience the joy of flowers.

If you are at all interested in learning more about the “behind the scenes” of flowers at Valentine’s Day, we’ll have two more pieces in this series:

  • What flowers are best to order for Valentine’s Day gifts
  • What questions you should ask the company you plan to order from

If you have any questions, please let us know (info@flowermuse.com).

Thanks!