Valentine's Day most romantic day of the year - and the chance to make a quick buck
This Valentine's Day there's a risk the $100 bunch of red roses you've ordered online for your significant other will arrive late, wilted and damaged – if it arrives at all.
Each year, after special days such as Valentine's and Mother's Day, Australian consumer protection agencies see a spike in the number of complaints about online flower retailers who have failed to deliver fresh bouquets on time.
"Valentine's Day is supposed to be the most romantic day of the year but, unfortunately, for some shonky operators it's a chance to earn a quick buck for substandard goods and service," says Matt Kean, Australia's new Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation.
"In one case, a bunch of flowers was delivered a day early on February 13 and looked nothing like the picture on the order page, and in another case, seven of the 12 roses ordered were badly damaged, with holes in the petals."
Two Australian businesses that have attracted consumer ire in the past are Ready Flowers, a Perth-based "order-gatherer" website that takes a large slice of the payment before forwarding the order to a local florist, and Bloomex Australia, which claims to ship flowers direct to consumers.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has investigated Ready Flowers following complaint spikes in previous years, and the business has tried to make changes.
In the lead-up to Valentine's Day, the ACCC says it has "reopened its files", and advised Ready Flowers it will immediately investigate relevant complaints.
"Increasingly, consumers are looking to online reviews and other publicly available information in deciding whether to acquire goods and services from particular businesses," an ACCC spokesperson says.
"Consumers looking to these sources might want to look at multiple sources. When relying on promised delivery times, consumers should keep note of the promises made."
Under Australian Consumer Law, if shoppers don't receive a product of acceptable quality and that matches the description, they can pursue a repair, replacement, or refund.
Bloomex Australia, part of the international Bloomex network, is also causing grief.
Outraged Bloomex customers have flooded social media, forums and product review pages with complaints about incorrect flowers, rotting fruit, and ribbons commonly used for funeral arrangements.
Customers have also set up Facebook pages such as "Bloomex Australia Sucks" where they've posted shots of what they ordered compared to what they received: incorrect flowers, withered petals and snapped stems.
Mellissa Doyle, an assistant from Toowoomba, Queensland, ordered a bouquet to be delivered to her aunt on July 2 last year. The flowers arrived three days late and were "dead or dying", and the foam at the bottom had disintegrated.
Her repeated requests for a refund were ignored, even though she lodged a complaint with Fair Trading. Two months later, her credit card provider reversed the $50 charge.
"Bloomex was within our budget so we placed the order, but I really wish we had Googled the company and done some research," she says.
Bloomex appeared on Fair Trading's complaints register for September, having triggered more than 10 complaints that month. It has launched a new website called Bunches Direct, which specialises in wedding arrangements.
A Bloomex spokeswoman says since flowers are perishable products and an emotional purchase, and given the sheer volume of sales, issues at times arise.
"Our number of complaints has dropped each year," she says.
"Bloomex investigates each and every complaint to offer a quick and courteous resolution, which may include resending a fresh bouquet at our expense, offering a store credit for another selection, or offering a full refund per stated store policies."
Fairfax Media is aware of more than 30 florists across Australia who are owed amounts between A$1000 (NZ$1064) and A$50,000 by Ready Flowers.
Rita Sakr was forced to close her kiosk and move her Wildrose Florist business into a garage after Ready Flowers refused to pay her the more than A$20,000 owed.
"I haven't heard from them. They used to send threatening emails, but now nothing, and I'm really angry because I know they've got the money but they're not paying people," she says.
"I urge people to ring up their local florist, because you'll get your money's worth."
The business recently launched a local offshoot called Ready Flowers Express.
A spokesman for Ready Flowers refused to answer Fairfax Media's questions, instead claiming: "The ACCC and NSW Fair Trading have never contacted Ready Flowers in relation to an ongoing investigation."