"Scammers target promgoers with fake designer dresses" - That was a top story reported on The Today Show this morning, April 11, 2013. It's a growing problem for many designers and fortunately, the government is cracking down on sites selling counterfeit dresses as quickly as they can - though with today's technology, a new site can pop up nearly faster than they can shut them down. Counterfeit wedding gowns is also an issue and many of these scammer sites will offer them as well as prom dresses.
LAB Enterprises and all our online stores are fully authorized dealers for all brands we sell - from Johnathan Kayne designer gowns and Lip Service to Leg Avenue and Dreamgirl International. But how can you tell if a site you want to shop on is authorized or selling cheap knock offs you would be embarrased to wear at your prom?
Here are 10 things you can look for to help weed out the scammer sites from legimate dealers:
- Is the price too good to be true? Many scammer sites advertise rediculously deep discounts. If you fell in love with a dress on the designers website or in a local store that was say $400 and you find it on a website for more than 25% off, be weary. Most designers set a minimum advertised price (or keystone price) legitimate authorized dealers are not allowed to go below - usually 2 to 2.5 times the wholesale price. As a business, a real dealer simply cannot make a profit and stay in business discounting items more than 25% (though of course may have sales from time to time such as our current 20% off thru April on PromElegance). While closeout styles can usually be sold for less (and bought by us for less), any current style advertised for "Up to 75% off" should immediately make you click off that site and shop elsewhere.
- Do they carry every designer you have ever heard of? Most designers have a very tight screening process to authorize dealers and that process can take time. If a site has 20 or more brands you immediately recognize, odds are they are NOT authorized dealers for every single one. We are still working on becoming authorized with several designers so can testify to how hard this process can be!
- Do they offer custom sizing? Designers create their dresses in set sizes. While you can always have your dress tailored, the designers themselves DO NOT offer custom sizes. So if you find a site that offers this service on that designer dress, do not buy from them.
- Do they offer different colors and fabrics? Designers are very specific about the fabrics and colors each design is manufactured in and do NOT let you pick any color you want. While many designs do come in 2-3 different color choices, you cannot pick a color or different fabric for it to be made in. Designers do NOT make their dresses to order - they are all pre-made for each season. If a site offers this or any other customization (add straps to a strapless dress, shorten sleeves, turn the gown into a cocktail length dress, etc), they are NOT a legitimate dealer. Designers simply do let dealers make ANY alterations to their dresses bought online. Some dress shops may offer some of these services as part of their tailoring after you purchase the dress, but if an online store does, shop elsewhere.
- Are they selling out of an Ebay store or auction? Most designer brands DO NOT ALLOW the sale of their styles on auction sites like Ebay. If you see someone selling brand new designer gowns on one of these sites, it is most likely a knockoff. Individuals can resell their used dresses on these sites of course, but any dealer claiming they are selling brand new designer gowns this way should be suspect. Some authorized dealers do have Ebay accounts (including us!), but can only sell discontinued styles or certain brands on them.
- Do they accept Paypal for payment? Paypal has very strict rules against selling counterfeit merchandise and will shut down the account of anyone they find selling knockoffs. While they do not catch everyone right away, a site that does not accept Paypal is another sign they may be selling knockoffs. Western Union and Bank Transfer are two payment methods often employed by these sites as they are nearly impossible for a customer to dispute. If these are the only payments they accept (or the recommended ones), be leary.
- Where is the site located? Most of the knockoffs come from cheap factories in China. While Chinese factories often produce the real dresses as well, they are under stricter quality controls than the knockoff shops. Look for contact information for the site - is it an international phone number? Do they have Chinese characters anywhere on their site (many will in the copyright or bottom information). You can use a tool like Alexa.com to learn about the domain name including where the site is located, how long they have been online, etc.
- Do they have an easy way to contact them? A lot of scammer sites will only have a form for you to use to contact them and no phone number, email address or other method. Or they may bury the contact information behind a link. Look for easy to find phone numbers.
- How do they ship? TNT, DHL and EMS are the 3 largest methods of shipping from China to the US. If these methods are included, they are probably shipping from a factory outside the US.
- Can the designer verify they are authorized? While this is one method The Today Show recommended, not all designers and brands have a list of authorized dealers on their website and calling them may or may not work. That brand may have thousands of authorized dealers worldwide (and dozens of employees, some more aware than others) and many of us have a company name (LAB Enterprises in our case), but various domain names (PromElegance.com SensualElegance.com, Gothicplus.com, etc) and the dealer may not recognize one or the other - even though I've been an authorized dealer with Leg Avenue for more than 10 years, if I don't give them my account number when I call, they have no idea who I am). So while this sounds like a great way for you to find out, it cannot always be accurate.
Remember, not all Chinese factories are bad and the majority of merchandise on mine and other legitimate stores are made there. The level of quality varies greatly though and a true designer brand will ONLY use the top level factories with a lot of quality checks, fabric tests and other controls going into making sure the real designer dress is worth the price.
Your prom should be a magical night you will remember for the rest of your life. Don't be taken in by scammers - get that real designer dress and feel like the princess you are.