Deceptive Floral Advertising
Consumers spend millions of dollars each year ordering “local” roses, lilies, daffodils, and floral displays from thousands of websites all across the states. Most online sites simply gather the order, charge an extra fee to the customer, and then contact a local florist to deliver flowers. Local in this context means the flowers come from a local merchant even if the online florist is thousands of miles away.
Some online florists advertise that they are “local,” and this is interpreted to mean the website is actually located in the community where the flowers originated. The issue has been hotly debated in state legislatures for two years now as lawmakers attempt to sort out whether advertising associated with these sales is deceptive. Predictably local florists and their national competitors are on opposite sides of this issue.
In 2012, California state Asm. Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, authored a bill to make such deceptive advertising practices illegal. The bill was amended and passed and became Chapter 633/AB 1581. The “California Florists First Act” requires businesses that sell floral arrangements to list their geographical location in print ads, internet ads and directory listings.
Nevada passed SB 404, legislation similar to the California law, this May. Two bills are pending including: Massachusetts HB 226 and New Jersey AB 4067. Missouri, Oklahoma and Oregon also considered the issue this year.
The legislation that passed in California was the fifth bill introduced in the state in the last 13 years on this same issue. The governor vetoed each of the four previous bills. Proponents suggested that while there is nothing wrong with non-local marketing of florist services, the consumer should be aware that the presumed local small business does not in fact have a local physical presence. The law, now currently in effect, makes it illegal to misrepresent the geographic location of its business. Violators could be punished by a fine of up to $250 per offense for either:
- Listing a local telephone number in any ad or listing, unless really considered local or the company must list the true physical address, including the city of the provider’s or vendor’s business.
- Listing a fictitious business name or an assumed business name in any ad or listing.
The law that was ultimately enacted was negotiated between the Internet industry, national floral companies, and local florists. Similar negotiations have not been so successful in other states. Before passing the California Assembly, the bill was clarified so that it did not include the listing of toll-free phone numbers as deceptive. It also did not impose any duty or obligation on a person other than a vendor or provider of floral products or services, so it does not regulate publishers of phone or internet directories, directory assistant services or internet websites that merely aggregate and provides information about other businesses.