When a retail florist’s website shows its location on a map as Spokane, Washington, it should have a physical location in Spokane, Washington — from a consumer’s perspective, it’s that simple. And thanks to a new policy adopted by the Society of American Florists’ board of directors, that sentiment is now the official position of SAF.
With the evolution of online marketing, deceptive advertising has been anything but a simple issue for retail florists. Deceptive trade practices — including misleading advertising, failure to explain fees and ambiguous language — often result in unhappy flower buyers, ultimately having a negative impact on sales and affecting the reputation of the industry as a whole. The SAF Retailers Council created the policy to provide industry best practices and give retailers a voice in stopping deceptive trade practices.
It’s important to note the distinction between deceptive trade practices and a chosen online marketing strategy. “Order gathering,” in and of itself, is not illegal. For instance, a Detroit-based business can buy keywords such as “flowers in XX city” so that it “gathers” those orders and then sends them to the local filling shop. It is not deceptive as long as the “gathering” shop is not directly misrepresenting the physical location of its business. Unfortunately, there are some retailers that do use deceptive tactics, which is where SAF’s policy is focused.
“Going back 40 years ago, deceptive advertising started with the Yellow Pages, and then the Internet upped it a level,” said Tim Galea of Norton’s Flowers & Gifts in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and a member of SAF’s board of directors and Retailers Council. “These retailers are misleading consumers by saying they are in a different location than where they are physically located. With the adoption of the Deceptive Trade Practices policy, SAF is taking a stand for local retail florists by clearly defining ethical retail business practices and providing a mechanism for SAF members to report policy infractions to the association.”
Here is the full policy:
SAF expects its members to adhere to fair business practices and encourages entrepreneurship within the floral industry and the U.S. floral marketplace. SAF supports ethical business practices and promotes efforts to discourage and stop deceptive trade practices within our industry. These deceptive practices include but are not limited to:
- Allowing employees or agents to misrepresent where a business is physically located.
- Using city, town or state names, maps, graphics or other information in ads, phone listings, website pages or other media in a manner likely to give the false impression that a business actually delivers in a geographic area from one of their own business-owned physical locations when, in fact, they do not.
- Sending orders for below the stated suggested retail price and standard delivery fees.
- Collecting service fees from customer transactions without clear disclosure to such customers.
- Infringing upon the intellectual property rights of others, or
- Any other illegal, unethical, fraudulent or misleading practice.
SAF supports and will assist its members to find legislative or regulatory solutions to issues of deceptive trade practices today and in the future.
SAF reserves the right to deny or terminate membership of any person or business entity found to violate the organization’s policy regarding ethical business practices and/or deceptive advertising. Any SAF member may report a violator to SAF headquarters via email with a copy of the ad, listing, or other proof that there has been a policy violation.
If SAF staff determines that a violation has, or appears to have, occurred, they will contact the violator. At this time SAF will provide the violator with an opportunity to supply additional information and/or explanation and to remind the violator of the policy and encourage compliance. If, based on the totality of the information received, SAF determines that the violator is still not in compliance after 30 days after the initial contact from SAF, SAF will send written notice of non-compliance to the violator, indicating that:
- If they do not appeal, or if their appeal is denied, SAF will publish their firm as a known violator.
- Membership of violator may be denied or terminated if they are not in compliance within 30 days.
- Appeals must be submitted within 15 days by U.S. Mail or email.
If appeal is denied and/or violator is still non-compliant after 90 days, SAF Executive Committee will vote on membership denial or termination.
SAF staff is currently working to implement the reporting function on the SAF website. In the meantime, SAF members can report any shops that are violating the policy via the website’s LiveChat function or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Katie Butler is the senior vice president of the Society of American Florists.