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Robin Heller, of Flowers by David in Langhorne, Pa., is among florists battling “order-gatherers” that undercut local shops.

Charles Fox • Philadelphia Inquirer,

Small florists struggle to compete with Internet rivals

  • Article by: Virginia A. Smith 
  • Philadelphia Inquirer
  • April 5, 2014 - 5:08 PM

They’re fighting to survive as a growing number of online middlemen known as “order-gatherers” sweep into the marketplace and take orders local florists used to receive.

Sounds like an old story: Brick-and-mortar stores battle booming Internet competitors. But florists say these third-party retailers are using deceptive advertising and failing to give consumers a fair deal.

“It’s like a tsunami that can’t be stopped,” said Rick Pannepacker, owner of Penny’s Flowers in Glenside, Pa., a family business since 1937.

Search online for “flowers” and “Glenside,” and Penny’s pops up. So do FromYouFlowers.com, FlowerDeliveryExpress.com and other websites that display no local address or phone number, but do include phrases like “Best Glenside, PA Same Day Flower Delivery.”

The sites take orders online and from toll-free numbers, add a 20 percent commission and other fees and then relay the order to a florist in the recipient’s hometown — Penny’s, say — to be filled and delivered.

By the time Penny’s gets it, the commission and fees have been deducted from the $80 order, which is now worth $50. After Pannepacker deducts his $10 delivery fee, he’s left with $40 — half the original order.

It’s a no-win situation: Pannepacker can either fill the full order and lose money or substitute a cheaper arrangement and risk consumer outrage. “What can you do? We’re all kind of stuck,” he said.

Here’s what florists are doing: They have organized the nonprofit Florists for Change and set up a website (RealLocalFlorists.com) to help consumers find them directly. They’re urging customers to add flowers to their “buy-local” list, and trying to promote the things they can do that order-gatherers can’t, such as creating custom orders and focusing on special occasions and niche markets.

Many florists also are refusing to work with the middlemen, sometimes derided as “DOGs,” for “deceptive order-gatherers.”

 

John Zhang, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, likens the plight of florists to the airline ticket and hotel reservation industries, which have been transformed by third-party websites.

“Technology inevitably will change their industry,” he said. “Florists need to understand what ways their business will change so they can adapt.”

© 2014 Star Tribune