If you can choose bouquets yourself and aren’t bothered by a limited selection (options like carnations and roses, not exotic blooms), supermarkets and street vendors offer big savings over florists and online outlets. Our undercover shoppers found supermarkets and warehouse club prices were, on average, 60 percent lower than those at florists. Street vendors’ prices were about 10 percent lower than that.

If you are buying flowers for a wedding or other major occasion, want them delivered, or need a custom arrangement, you’ll probably go with a retail florist. Among florists we found big price differences: For one dozen long-stem red roses, we found prices ranging from $15 to $90; and for stargazer lilies prices ranged from $2.75 to $10 per stem.

We also found big differences in the service shops offer. For example, for the quality of advice provided, some shops were rated “superior” by 60 percent or fewer of their surveyed customers, while others received such favorable scores from 90 percent or more.

While you have several options if you need to have flowers delivered outside the Chicago area, we strongly advise dealing directly with a florist you trust—either one in the recipient’s area or one located here that will find an out-of-town florist and coordinate the transaction.

Several online floral companies will do this too, but using a local florist gives you more control.

Many companies that pose online as local florists are really just order-taking services that often deliver big headaches.

When ordering flowers for delivery, pay by credit card. If the florist that screws up is unwilling to make things right, you can contest the charge with your credit card company.