A nationwide floral distributor based in Mahwah stiffed customers by delivering wilted arrangements and those different from what was ordered and refusing to compensate those who complained, state authorities charged.
Avas Flowers avoided criminal charges by agreeing to improve its business practices and paying the state $60,000, following an investigation of alleged violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said.
The multi-million-dollar company and its founder and CEO, Matthew Neuenhaus, also agreed to go to binding arbitration before state Division of Consumer Affairs to resolve consumer complaints that are either pending or are filed within the next year, the attorney general said.
Consumer complaints triggered a DCA probe of Avas, which is located on Corporate Drive off Route 17 near the Rockland County border but accepts delivery orders nationwide, Grewal said.
Neuenhaus, a U.S. Navy veteran, entered the floral business with New City Florist in Rockland, which he operated with his wife for 14 years. He then relocated to Mahwah, launching the Avas fulfillment center in 2008.
The business model centered on competing directly with floral giants 1-800-Flowers and FTD.com by buying directly from growers instead of wholesalers.
Neuenhaus once told a reporter that Avas sold enough roses one year to present one to each first-time mother in the United States the previous three years – more than 3 million.
Somewhere, the bloom came off the rose.
“Whether it’s for a wedding, Mother’s Day, or another occasion, consumers making online purchases should get what they pay for,” Grewal said.
The attorney general said the DCA investigation followed complaints that Avas:
- misrepresented its location;
- failed to notify customers of substitutions or give them the option to cancel their orders for a full refund when making substitutions;
- failed to offer every option available to consumers, including re-delivery, merchandise credit, or a full refund when orders were delivered late or simply not delivered.
Under a consent order with the state, Avas Flowers will pay $46,238.23 in civil penalties, $5,594.27 in investigative costs, and $8,167.50 in attorneys’ fees, the attorney general said.
The company also agreed, he said, to:
- Clearly and conspicuously display a link to its complete policy for cancellations, substitutions, refunds and returns on the company’s home page, on any page where merchandise can be ordered and on the check-out page prior to purchase;
- Clearly and conspicuously describe its policies on cancellations, substitutions, refunds and returns;
- Accept order cancellations submitted in the manner and within the time frame specified in the cancellation policy;
- Refrain from guaranteeing delivery at a specific time when it’s beyond the company’s control;
- Offer customers the choice of re-delivery, store credit or a full refund if merchandise isn’t delivered, is defective or differs in quality or characteristics from what was ordered;
- Provide all customers with copies of itemized invoices following purchases;
- Clearly and conspicuously disclose its main business address.
Deputy Attorney General Monisha A. Kumar represented the state following an investigation by Kristen Higgins of the Office of Consumer Protection within the Division of Consumer Affairs.
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