A flower can trigger emotion, but in the case of one Houston woman they didn’t get the type of response you might expect.
“I was livid,” said Barbara Marks. “I’m appalled.”
When Marks aunt passed away, she decided to try to cheer her grieving mother by sending her some flowers.
So she went online.
“I googled a local florist for Tomball and Merit popped up,” she told the KHOU 11 News I-Team.
Marks is referring to Merit Florist. On its website, it promotes hand-delivered fresh flowers by one of their courteous drivers.
So Barbara chose an arrangement and was charged 66 dollars.
But when her Mom posted a photo of what she had received on her Facebook page, Marks was stunned.
She says what she saw was not what she expected.
“When I saw the picture I was really upset,” she said. “It was supposed to make a big impact and instead she got a lot of greenery and a small arrangement.”
What Barbara would later learn is that Merit Florist is what some critics call a “phony flower store.” Not a real walk-in shop, it’s a business on the fourth floor of a mid-rise in Bellaire. It takes orders over the internet or the phone and then passes them on to be fulfilled and delivered by local storefront florists throughout the country. But, not before taking a piece of your flower-buying dollars.
For example, after seeing her Mother’s bouquet, Barbara Marks decided to call the florist that made and delivered her mother’s arrangement.
She says that while she paid Merit Florist $66 for the flowers, the local florist told her that Merit only wired $35 to make the arrangement.
Angry, Marks tried contacting Merit for a refund but says every time that she did, that they were rude and she got “nowhere.”
Turns out, Marks isn’t alone.
“We have had 48 complaints against Merit Florist,” Leah Napoliello of the BBB told the I-Team. “They have customer service issues and they need to be taking care of their customers.”
Andrew Krause in Denton, Texas also had problems with Merit Florist.
He remembers when he first contacted them. His stepdaughter had just given birth to a girl.
“We 100 percent thought it was a florist,” he said, believing that he was talking with a local storefront shop.
So Krause ordered a baby arrangement from Merit.
KHOU 11 News: “Did you get what you paid for?”
“No. I one hundred percent don’t think we did” said Krause. “The vase wasn’t the same thing; the flowers weren’t worth the same thing that we had ordered.”
So the KHOU 11 News I-Team decided to take a closer look: We went ‘mystery shopping’ with Merit.
Our first buy was what’s called the ‘Best Year Basket’ and it was sent by our mystery shopper, “John,” to a friend in New Mexico.
The price? $100. So what showed up?
The flower basket that included a teddy bear didn’t appear to be as large or full as the arrangement we ordered on Merit’s website. Also, the recipient described it as “less than impressive.”
Finally, the local florist who made the arrangement told us it normally doesn’t cost $100, but just $75.
For buy number two, undercover shopper “Keith” ordered Merit’s “Splendid Roses” for $84.
So what arrived? Once again, the arrangement seemed smaller and less full than the one pictured on-line at Merit’s site.
In addition, the florist who made and delivered it told us they only received $60 from Merit, as opposed to the $84 we paid.
So the I-Team decided it was time to visit Merit Florist to discuss consumer’s complaints.
There we met Merit’s owner Al Shapiro.
KHOU 11 News: “Do you think it’s fair not to be up front on the website that you’re not a storefront florist?”
KHOU 11 News: “It’s a yes or no question.”
Shapiro: “Do I think it’s unfair? No.”
In fact, Shapiro says in some cases consumers’ problems stem from the flower shops that Merit gives their order to.
KHOU 11 News: “So you’re blaming...”
KHOU 11 News: “The local florists?”
Shapiro: “No. I’m saying that many, not all, that there are local florists out there that will accept orders at less than what they want for the order and under fill it.”
But, in the end Shapiro admitted there have been problems with customer service.
“We’ve had issues,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we’re not doing anything about it.”
He paused and then continued this thought.
“We’re not perfect,” he added.
In the days after we spoke with Al Shapiro outside his business he contacted Andrew Krause and Barbara Marks and offered refunds.
Shapiro also said he is updating his website to alleviate any confusion.
And he is going to meet with his employees to improve customer service.