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Online Shopper

A Dozen Reasons to Buy on the Net

February 08, 2001|JENNIFER LOWE |

It would seem the Internet is made for days such as Valentine's, when all the last-minute Lotharios wake up and realize they need to buy roses.

With just some frenzied clicking, you can send your true love a bouquet without calling a floral shop or plucking a few blooms from the garden.

Flowers abound online, and because floral Web sites work with a network of established florist shops, you often can order flowers early in the day and have them delivered by a local florist a few hours later.

Still, during this most busy time for the floral industry, you'd do best to order ahead. That way, if there are glitches such as the "driver error" we encountered, you'll have time to save face.

Ordering ahead also gives you time to comparison shop and hunt for deals so you don't have to buy out of desperation. Prices vary widely, with a dozen roses going for anywhere from about $45 to more than $125, and you need to read the fine print to see what you're getting. A postage stamp-size picture of an arrangement might look pretty, but the roses might not come in red or in a vase--just a packing box.

A nice feature of most flower sites, though, is that you can type in your greeting. I felt more certain that "For all you do, these buds are for you" wouldn't get botched as I typed it in--something that has happened when I've called in orders.

I ordered roses at the end of January from three Web sites, which already were gushing about their Valentine buys. In view of a threatened economic downturn, I kept the purchases to about $50. Can you get a bouquet for that and not look cheap?

All the (, ( and ( easy enough to navigate. And all but could deliver arrangements the same day, provided my orders were in by 1 or 2 p.m. Proflowers, which claimed to ship its flowers directly from the grower, does not send flower arrangements. What you get are flowers stuck in little plastic vials of water to keep them fresh, packed securely in a shipping box. They come by FedEx overnight. I figured the roses might be superior, though, and rose lovers might not mind having to arrange them themselves.

I liked the degree of detail on the FTD site--it told me the height and width in inches. The site also was honest about its prices: I was inside the cutoff window of the non-Valentine's orders, so the half-dozen-rose arrangement I picked was $41.99. Between Feb. 1 and Feb. 17, it would be $55.99.

I had many choices on 1-800-Flowers--67 items came up when I typed "roses" in the search window. I picked a classic-looking arrangement of half a dozen for $46.99. I had done some homework first: I'd jotted down a 15%-off coupon code from an Internet coupon site,

While coupon surfing, I saw an online ad for a dozen roses from Proflowers for $44.95, a 10% savings. On the site, the roses looked beautiful--big, red, professionally arranged--but it wasn't until I clicked on delivery information that the packing box thing was explained. A picture at this point showed a lush bouquet popping out of a box. I was a bit confused, though, with this explanation: "Flowers are arranged as shown in our descriptions." Still, the price was what I was paying for half a dozen elsewhere; my love could suck it up and arrange them for that price.

Good thing the two arranged bouquets went to the department secretary and my boss, and the purple FedEx Proflowers box came to me on the next morning's delivery rounds. Though the box bore the message "Someone is thinking of you," the Department of Agriculture's "OK" stamp was, well, hardly romantic.

The FTD flowers arrived in no time--three hours after I'd placed my order. It helped that they came from the florist across the street from the office.

The 1-800-Flowers bouquet, scheduled for same-day delivery, was a no-show. Though the flowers were scheduled to arrive between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m, according to the site, a customer service representative called me about 3 p.m. to say there had been a "driver error," and the flowers would be delivered the next day and be "upgraded to a dozen." Taken by the idea of a dozen for the same price, I agreed. Only after I hung up did I wonder what would have happened had I said no. The upgrade arrived the next day, as promised, about 11 a.m.

All the flowers looked good in the drab interior of an office. But beauty was certainly in the eye of the beholder. Twenty colleagues wandered by, and though some pronounced all bouquets beautiful, others were fairly critical of each. I was swayed by popular opinion and came down in favor of the 1-800-Flowers bouquet. Though I thought the roses looked best from Proflowers, and FTD's was the most attractively arranged, the batch from 1-800-Flowers--wedged with greenery into a vase--looked most impressive. And what is wooing about, after all, but trying to impress?


Jennifer Lowe is deputy food editor of The Times.

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