AP Business Writer
POSTED: 6:30 p.m. HST, Feb 13, 2011
The online coupon site Groupon.com and flower company FTD Group Inc. are offering refunds after getting complaints that a Valentine's Day flower deal wasn't so sweet.
Both companies said they didn't do anything wrong, but they responded to Internet complaints that FTD inflated prices for some Groupon customers who used a coupon for $20 off an FTD flower purchase of $40 or more.
The problem surfaced when several Groupon customers found the flowers they bought were priced lower as sale items on FTD's own website. They complained on the Groupon site and the Internet that FTD was making up for the Groupon discount by jacking up the prices.
But FTD Group Inc. President Rob Apatoff said in an interview on Sunday that wasn't the case. He said it was clear on the sites that the coupon didn't apply to sale items.
Still, Apatoff said the Downers Grove, Ill., company will credit the customers' accounts to give them the sale price, even if they don't ask for it. Both companies also say they will make full refunds if people aren't satisfied.
"At no time did we inflate any prices. Absolutely not," Apatoff said. "Because there was some confusion with a few, we decided to step up and do the right thing to make sure everybody was happy."
Even with the higher price on the Groupon site, Groupon customers always got a better deal with the $20 coupon than buying from the FTD site, Apatoff said. Discounts on the FTD site were $5 to $10 lower than the price on the Groupon site, he said.
Groupon Inc. officials started seeing the complaints on Thursday and contacted FTD about the problem, Groupon.com President Rob Solomon said on Sunday. Together, they decided to credit the accounts of people who bought the sale items through Groupon, giving them the difference between the sale price and the price that was on the Groupon site, he said. The companies also put the FTD sale prices on the Groupon site, he said.
"To make this right, we've worked with FTD to make sure that your Groupon can be used on any item with the sale price," Solomon said.
Both companies said "tens of thousands" of people bought FTD flowers through the Groupon site, but Solomon estimated that only a few hundred bought the sale items and would get the credit to their charge accounts.
At any given time, five to 17 items of the 500 on the FTD site are on sale, Apatoff said.
Groupon has people who monitor Internet prices on coupon items to make sure there are no discrepancies, and they catch differences in most cases, Solomon said. He called the FTD case a rare exception.
The problem is the second time in a week in which Internet complaints forced Groupon to change course. The company pulled television ads less than a week after they first aired during the Super Bowl when they were criticized on Facebook and Twitter.
In one of the commercials, actor Timothy Hutton says "the people in Tibet are in trouble, their culture is in jeopardy," as pictures of Tibet are shown on the screen. The punch line? It turns out he's talking about a fish curry deal Groupon offered.
"We hate that we offended people, and we're very sorry that we did — it's the last thing we wanted," co-founder Andrew Mason said in a posting on the company's site.