Over the years, we noticed a pattern of flower prices going up for Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, and we wondered what exactly was up with that. And we know we're not alone – many of our readers are struck with sticker shock, too.
So we decided to do an experiment. We found a bouquet of a dozen red roses – the overly cliched but still most popular Valentine's Day bouquet in the United States – at five different online florists and tracked the price every week for a year.
The infographic below illustrates our findings. We knew that Valentine's Day would be expensive, of course, but we were somewhat surprised that red roses were available for next to nothing during the summer from a few florists, though most maintained a relatively steady, affordable price point – February notwithstanding, of course.
Looking at this graph, it's really easy to jump to conclusions about price gouging, right? But our investigation of what drives the price of roses revealed that nothing could be further from the truth. We wanted to know what was behind the data, what story it was really telling. Florists need to turn a profit, of course, and Valentine's Day is surely the high season. What we found was a lot more complex than that. Although flowers are largely treated as a standard retail item, they are in fact a highly perishable agricultural product, which introduces all kinds of difficulties and scenarios that can affect their price on any given day.
Growing and harvesting flowers is labor intensive.
Stating the obvious, flowers must first be planted and grown, well ahead of the February demand. "After the Christmas season demand for red roses are filled, growers need 50 to 70 days to produce enough roses for the Valentine's demand," says Liz Castoro, Associate Director, Enterprise Public Relations for 1-800-Flowers. "Valentine's inspires the heaviest demand for long-stemmed roses, and several rosebuds are [sacrificed] to create a single long-stemmed rose."
When demand surges, it's not like flower sellers can just call the factory and tell them to crank up production. Labor must be hired to harvest them stem by stem. And it's not like they can be stockpiled – if a lot of people want roses all at once, growers have to hire extra workers to get through the harvest just in time to be shipped out to the florists. If there are more flowers to ship, that also means more trucks, more airplanes to carry them off to the florists. Who picks up the cost of all that extra labor? You do.
That doesn't even take local growing conditions into account. If a hail storm destroys a bunch of flowers that had been slated for Valentine's Day, or a drought undermines an entire crop, the extra-limited supply will drive prices even higher.
Where flowers are grown matters a lot.
Here in the United States, Valentine's Day falls right in the middle of our annual deep freeze. Roses aren't exactly in season, you know? But roses are the standard, so they have to be shipped in from somewhere. Most of the flowers we get in the winter are flown in from places like Colombia, Ecuador, even as far away as Kenya according to a 2016 report from the Chicago Tribune. Compare that to summer, when flower inventory is more readily available from domestic growers – which lowers transportation costs considerably for the summer months.
Valentine's Day is only 24 hours long.
So there's the grower, their field hands, the truck drivers, and the cargo planes from another continent. Once those flowers get to the United States, there's the entire distribution network with fleets of more trucks and more airplanes, your local florist, and their delivery people. Or if you ordered your bouquet online, the warehouse worker who packed your roses into a box before handing it off to a shipper like UPS or Fedex. Then there are more trucks and planes and finally the truck driver who quickly drops them on your doorstep before rushing off to the next house. "The tremendous demand for Valentine's flowers requires florists to hire additional help, work additional work hours and acquire extra delivery vehicles and drivers," Castoro noted.
From harvest to delivery, all of that activity must happen within just a few days because the day after Valentine's Day isn't good enough and the shelf life of a bouquet of flowers is extremely short. An estimated 250 million roses are grown for Valentine's Day every year, and there are only 24 short hours to deliver them all.
That's a ton of work done with remarkable precision and speed to satisfy Americans' singular 1-day demand for foreign-grown flowers in the coldest part of winter. This isn't price gouging so much as it's just the cost of meeting a very high demand with a lot of difficult conditions attached. Of course a bouquet of red roses is going to be expensive. It's something of a miracle of modern logistics that it can be done at all!
The best time to order Valentine's Day flowers
Several online florists allow customers to place orders for flowers up to 30 days in advance. Our data shows that the price of roses starts inching up in mid-January, and the longer you wait, the more expensive it gets. So we recommend getting your order in sometime around January 15 to lock in a lower price. Castoro agreed that placing orders early is a solid move. "Specifically, this Valentine's, we encourage consumers to order early and save up to 40% on our dedicated Valentine's collection."
In a brief statement to Brad's Deals, Teleflora agreed that scheduling your flower delivery now is a smart move. "Due to the high demand for flowers during the Valentine’s Day season, the overall price for flowers increases across the board… especially as you get closer to February 14, which is why through our marketing, we encourage consumers to order early!"
Other tips to save money on Valentine's Day flowers
Always check for coupons
If you do wait, though, you're not necessarily out of luck. Our data did not look at whether or not coupons were available, but you can more or less count on special coupons and promo codes that can knock a few dollars off the base price. Check out these online florists, who have a history of offering coupon discounts in the run up to Valentine's Day:
Look for exclusive deals
Don't forget to check the latest deals on flowers on Brad's Deals. We partner with a number of online florists, and they often will offer special pricing on specific bouquets and arrangements exclusively to our readers. If we've posted it on our site, then it's been vetted and has our team's stamp of approval as a great deal.
Got an Amazon Prime subscription?
Delivery costs can really drive up the cost of a bouquet, but select fresh cut flowers at Amazon are eligible for free 2-day shipping with a Prime membership, and orders of $35 or more can take advantage of free 1-day delivery. The only downside here is that we don't see a way to schedule delivery in advance.
Skip the roses entirely
Not only are other flowers often easier on your wallet, opting instead for your beloved's favorite bloom shows that you're paying attention. (For any secret admirers out there, I happen to like snapdragons.)
Don't forget about delivery
You'll still pay a premium for Valentine's Day delivery, of course, so consider having the bouquet shipped to yourself a day early to avoid some of the markup, then deliver it in person. You'll save a bundle of cash, get an opportunity to inspect the flowers before giving them away, and you get to see the look on their face when you show up with an armful of beautiful flowers.
This story originally appeared on Brad's Deals.