Plenty of good local florists, but beware ordering flowers online

Be careful if you plan to have flowers delivered for Mother's Day -- or any day, for that matter. Misleading internet ads promise low prices but the flowers might be shoddy, if they ever arrive. It's a thorn in the side of reputable florists across the country who get caught in the middle.

Gehl's Flower and Gifts is Burien is among the dozen local florists to earn a top rating for quality in the newest issue of Consumers' Checkbook magazine. Researchers at surveyed its subscribers and those of Consumer Reports and asked them to weigh in on the quality, service, knowledge, and reliability of florists they deal with. Researchers also compared prices.

"There's not necessarily a price-quality relationship with flowers," explained Checkbook's Executive Editor Kevin Brasler. "High quality florists will charge reasonable prices, and some shops that didn't rate very high- had high prices."

Brasler acknowledged that florists prices are influenced by a number of factors, including overhead, location, competition, and the quality and price of flowers at the wholesale level. Some florists order higher quality flowers than others, so it pays to shop around and get a look at a florists work.

Even if you need flowers delivered in a different city, Brasler and other consumer advocates say it pays to start with a local florist you trust. Most reputable, local florists have a network of resources and can help you find a quality florist to fill your order for delivery in other parts of the country. Just be careful about ordering on the internet.

The Better Business Bureau, the AARP and federal regulators warn of deceptive companies that create websites and offer what look like great flowers at unbelievable prices. Don't believe it. While the websites appear to have locations in your city - in realilty, the numbers typically go to out-of-state call centers where people take your order, collect your money, pocket a fee, then transfer the order to a real florist in a given city. A florist you could have called yourself directly had you done a little homework.

"There are so many websites out there, hundreds of them in fact, and they're simply order takers," said Florist Tom Gehl. "Those people do not know what's available and what isn't. They don't know about pricing. They keep taking these orders late in the day for same-day delivery. So often, these orders come in after we've cut off deliveries."

The deception is not only a thorn in the side for reputable florists- it can be bad news for consumers. Some of the internet ads promise flowers and prices too low to be realistic so reputable florists refuse to fill them. Gehl referred to a stack of orders he recently rejected. He says he rejects about 50 suspicious flower orders a month - and he's not alone.

When reputable florists reject an order, the internet petal pushers just try another florist. Gehl says sometimes they'll even modify the order and transfer it back to his shop again. Shady orders can be rejected multiple times by multiple florists. In the end, the intended recipient may not get the flowers on time, they may not get the flowers the sender thought they were buying, they may get nothing at all.

If you need flowers delivered in another city and you don't know what florist to call- either stick with an established, well known, reliable online company- or call a reputable florist with a physical location in your community. Your local florist can work with you in getting what you want and can help make sure it's delivered on time by a reputable florist who'll stand by their work. There might be a service fee and you'll pay more than the deceptive ads online- but it's better than paying a petal pushing stranger who can't deliver.

Through special arrangement, KOMO viewers can access Checkbook's customer service ratings of Puget Sound-area florist shops without a subscription until Monday May 19, 2014. The Spring/Summer 2014 issue also includes in-depth reports on local auto repair shops, roofers, painters, drycleaners and furniture stores.