Ask any bride: Preparing for a wedding is taxing enough without having to worry about getting ripped off while trying to buy your gown -- or dresses for your bridesmaids.
But brides trying to save money on dresses are the targets of a growing market of shady websites scattered around the globe, most of which either don't deliver at all or take an extraordinary amount of time to send something that doesn't resemble what was ordered.
The sites, which turn up readily in web searches and Google ads, look professional and feature a wide array of wedding dresses for prices that are far too low for this typically overpriced market. Most of the featured bridal gowns on the sites are $200 or less -- an apparent opportunity that should really be a warning sign.
Complaints about the sites cataloged by SiteJabber.com -- a federally funded forum for consumer commentary about websites -- have been growing as more and more brides have been drawn in by the tantalizing prices.
Here are some of the sites that have drawn complaints on SiteJabber:
One thing all these sites have in common: All those sites are based in China. Some obscure their location, by either avoiding any mention altogether or by offering a U.S. phone number or a London mailing address. One such address on one of the sites was that offered by a mail forwarding service.
Why does the location matter? Because when dealing with overseas sites, consumers lose leverage. There's very little recourse if something goes wrong, which appears to be quite often.
"We urge brides to use great caution when shopping for a wedding dress online," SiteJabber.com CEO Jeremy Gin said. "Be sure to check reviews, call the online store to get details about their business, and pay using a credit card that has strong anti-fraud protection."
Few shoppers are going to take the time to research domain registrations. But you can take a few simple steps to avoid starting out your wedding dress shopping on the wrong foot:
- Beware of sites offering exceptionally low prices. There's probably a reason why they're that low, including the possibility that no dress will ever be sent.
- If you're still inclined to buy from a low-priced site, do a search and see what others are saying. If you can't find anything, steer clear. The sites change their names all the time as complaints mount.
- Read the terms and conditions of your purchase before you make it -- something you need to do when dealing with any new site -- so you don't end up in a situation you're going to regret.