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Flower delivery services: You may not get what you pay for

With Valentine's Day just a week away, Americans are rushing to buy flowers: $2 billion worth on this holiday alone. But are they really getting what they pay for?

Online, the photos look amazing: Colorful, lush, fresh flowers in magnificent bloom, cascading over the vases. But what really shows up at the door? To find out, TODAY put the most popular companies to the test, sending flowers all over the country, from New York to Illinois to Los Angeles, and ordering from some of the biggest names in the business: 1-800-Flowers, Teleflora and FTD.

At 1-800-Flowers, TODAY paid $59.99 for the "Modern Embrace" arrangement. In Illinois and New York, the arrangements arrived looking pretty close to the enormous roses and lilies in the ads. "Very cool and modern, and a lot like the picture," said the recipient, who was working with TODAY for this report.

But in LA, things were different. "While the ad shows eight lilies, the bouquet that showed up only has five," said the recipient there. "If I'm paying for eight lilies, I don't want five."

Natalia Campbell of NC Photography | Flickr | Getty Images

The results for Teleflora were inconsistent too: different in every location. TODAY ordered the "Moonlight Kiss" bouquet for $54.95, a huge plume of flowers. But that's not what arrived in New York. "It doesn't look as full or as beautiful as the picture, and some of these flowers are wilting," said the recipient there, pointing to one. "This lily's got a lot of brown in it."

In fact, some of the flowers were already dying. Teleflora's ad also bragged about a special reflective vase, but it was not so special for the recipient in LA. "The vase it came in has major scratches all over," the recipient said.

And in Illinois, it was a different vase entirely. "There's no mirror to be seen at all," the recipient there said. Teleflora later apologized, but said it reserves the right to make substitutions.

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But the biggest surprise of all came from FTD. TODAY ordered the "Expressions of Love" bouquet for $49.99. Online it was a vibrant bouquet. But what arrived in Illinois looked "a little sparse right now, and not as tall as the picture," the recipient there said. And LA's recipient of the bouquet said: "Some of the flowers look a little wilted. They look a little old."

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But at least "Expressions of Love" showed up in Illinois and LA. In New York, the recipient waited... and waited... and waited, but the arrangement was never delivered. Days later, FTD sent flowers — and a refund.

All three companies said quality is a priority and "guarantee satisfaction," refunding money or replacing flowers if a customer isn't happy. But in a recent development, 1-800-Flowers told TODAY it's looking to make a big change to fix the problem. Using a new technology now being tested, the local florist would send you a photo of the actual bouquet before its delivered, so you can approve. 1-800-Flowers is hoping to roll out the program in the next few weeks.

Statement from Teleflora in response to this report:

"We are absolutely committed to quality products and services at Teleflora, and regret that the bouquets you ordered did not meet our high standards. Unlike our competitors who may ship their products from a distribution center in a box, all of our floral arrangements are artistically arranged by one of our 15,000 independently owned and operated neighborhood florists in North America and Australia using only the freshest flowers available. Each gift is personally delivered in a keepsake vase.

Occasionally, substitutions of flowers or containers are necessary due to temporary, regional availability issues as was most likely the case with your order in Evanston, IL. We apologize that the florist didn't communicate to you in advance that the silver reflections vase wasn't available and would have to be substituted. We are always assessing ways we can improve our services to avoid potential customer disappointment. Teleflora partners with the most experienced and highest quality neighborhood florists and we take great pride in helping these small business owners stay in business by working with them to deliver the best arrangements. We guarantee satisfaction with every gift order and will always replace bouquets that do not delight and satisfy our customers."

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Statement from 1-800-Flowers in response to this report:

At 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, we pride ourselves in helping our customers deliver a smile with our truly original arrangements. We work closely with our local florists to ensure that they select the best and freshest flowers available; therefore, colors and varieties may vary at times. We always offer a 100% Smile Guarantee; therefore, if a customer is not completely satisfied with their order, our caring team, obsessed with service, will redeliver, refund, credit or offer a comparable exchange. Also, to enhance our customers' experience with us, we are delighted to be in the initial testing phase of a pilot program, where some of our customers will have the opportunity to view a picture of their floral arrangement before it is sent to their recipient. As always, our goal is to provide our customers with an easy and convenient way to deliver a smile and express themselves perfectly."

Statement from FTD in response to this report:

"Each year, FTD and its network of thousands of local member florists deliver millions of beautiful arrangements to our customers. FTD has been committed to helping our customers express emotions through flowers for more than 100 years. Because flowers are a perishable product, our policy is to ensure quality and freshness through our FTD 'Good As Gold' 7 Day Satisfaction Guarantee. When we hear from our customers with a concern, FTD's customer service specialists will work to resolve those issues to our customers' satisfaction."

By Scott Stump, TODAY.com
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