United Online to say it with flowers

United Online -- owner of the NetZero and Juno Internet providers -- plans to buy FTD Group, a flower company.

Take note, Microsoft: There may be better ways to diversify your business than by wooing Web 2.0 companies such as Yahoo.

Internet service provider United Online -- the owner of NetZero and Juno -- plans to get into the flower business. On Wednesday, it said it would pay about US$456 million in stock and cash to acquire FTD Group, the company that provides flowers and related services to about 20,000 retailers in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Ireland.

The deal makes sense because the flower market is "experiencing significant growth in the Internet sector," and United will be able to drive its 50 million existing customers to FTD's Web sites, the two companies said in a joint statement. United's NetZero and Juno online businesses will account for less than 25 percent of all revenue under the deal.

United is thinking of including FTD products in its MyPoints.com customer loyalty service, which the company acquired in 2006. But FTD will continue to operate from its existing headquarters in Downers Grove, Illinois, as a wholly owned subsidiary of United.

The deal is expected to close by the end of September 2008, pending the approval of FTD stockholders. Investment firms holding about 32 percent of FTD shares have agreed to the acquisition.

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