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1-800-Flowers upsets some Mother's Day customers

The online flower delivery service exposes customers' email addresses after failing to deliver gifts to mothers and loved ones.

    Mother's Day wasn't so rosy for some customers of 1-800-Flowers.com.

    First, the online flower delivery service failed to deliver gifts to the mothers and loved ones of 158 customers last weekend. Then it sent an email to all the customers involved, but in doing so, it exposed their email addresses.

    1-800-Flowers spokesman Ken Young said the company "messed up" and is trying to make amends. "We are in the process of reaching out to those people to make right what went wrong," he said.

    But several customers said they have yet to hear from 1-800-Flowers--and they are getting impatient.

    Cassie Glessner, of San Francisco, said she both emailed and called the Westbury, N.Y.,-based company after her mother did not receive the Fiestaware pitcher she ordered. But, the company did not respond until this afternoon. "It makes me a little bit distrustful about the whole process," Glessner said.

    The Mother's Day mess at 1-800-Flowers mirrors the problems other online companies had during Valentine's Day. Keystone Systems reported that many customers were unable to order electronic greeting cards for Valentine's Day, and few of the online gift sites delivered all of their orders on time.

    When 1-800-Flowers sent out its email to customers, it put their addresses in the "to" field, meaning that each customer was able to see the addresses of the other customers. This type of mass mailing follows similar gaffes at Seagate Software, Nissan and AT&T last year.

    The problems at 1-800-Flowers started when a number of customers ordered the Fiestaware pitcher with Rhumba spray roses the company offered for Mother's Day. Many paid extra to ensure they would be delivered on Saturday, the day before Mother's Day.

    The company ran out of the pitchers, but did not notify consumers until 9 p.m. ET Saturday that it would not be able to ship the orders on time. Although the company asked customers to contact it immediately to get a replacement order in, many customers said they have had trouble getting through to the company's customer service department.

    Young said the unfulfilled orders represented a small fraction of the Mother's Day orders placed on the site. 1-800-Flowers received more than 750,000 orders for the holiday and averaged more than 100,000 orders per day last week, he said.

    Still, the incident was "disastrous," said Forrester Research analyst Seema Williams. The large majority of the customers affected will never shop at 1-800-Flowers again, and they will likely warn their friends and family not to use the service, she said.

    "This is going to be pretty damaging," Williams said. "Consumers tend to forget small things like errors on a company's home page, but this is not the kind of error people are willing to forgive."

    Already, the affected customers have used the spam email from 1-800-Flowers to band together. The email essentially created a mailing list of upset customers, which they have used to contact each other and give updates on their experiences with the company.

    Through the mailing list, some customers have reported that the company is offering different deals, with some customers receiving a full refund and others only getting partial discounts on their orders.

    Fulton, N.Y. resident Cheryl Read, who ordered two of the Fiestaware pitchers, said 1-800-Flowers has agreed to refund her money and has already sent out replacement flowers and apology notes in place of the pitchers. But Read, who has helped organize the upset customers, said everyone should get the same deal.

    "It's patently unfair for them to make a different deal with each person," Read said.

    Young said the company was trying to address each customer's concerns. "We're trying to work with each customer on an individual basis," he said.

    But that might not be good enough for many of the affected customers. Glessner, for instance, said the pitcher she ordered for her mother from 1-800-Flowers was her first online gift purchase. She said she definitely will not use 1-800-Flowers anymore and might not order gifts online again.

    Read echoed Glessner's sentiments. "This is my first and last experience with 1-800-Flowers," she said. "Mother's Day--you just don't blow that."