Buyer Beware: How buying from a knockoff site can ruin your dream dress.

You Get What You Pay For!

If you’ve ever visited Canal Street in New York City, you know that there’s big business in counterfeit designer merchandise. Linger for even a few seconds and, chances are, you’ll find a shady-looking person at your elbow, nudging and muttering something along the lines of “Gucci bag” or “real Rolex” as they try to steer you towards a dark alleyway.

Once you get there, you’re more likely to find “Channel” masquerading as Chanel and a cheap tin “Rollex” instead of the heavy gold original. At first glance—in dim lighting—it might appear that you’re getting the real thing, but once you check out the quality, you’ll realize that nobody’s going to mistake your $200 “Burpin” for a $25k Birkin.

But dark alleys aren’t the only places to find counterfeit merchandise. Fox Five News’ Arnold Diaz recently ran an investigative piece about one Long Island bride who tried on and paid for a designer dress from a bridal boutique, only to discover a poor imitation in its place when she went to pick it up. “Everything was off,” the bride explained. “The color was off, the proportion of the ruffles wasn’t right . . .” In addition, the knockoff had completely different lace and there was no tell-tale label

Though this bride had a difficult time getting her money back, she was also lucky because she had actually been to the store and had some recourse. This isn’t the case for the unucky consumer who stumbles upon one of the thousands of fraudulent retail websites—most run out of China—selling “designer” dresses at deep discount.

Joanne Stoner, founder and CEO of edressme.com, is all too familiar with these scammers. “There are a lot of websites that have completely copied our site—including our images and all the copy,” she explains. “We’ll use Faviana photos and in a lot of cases, the fraudulent sites just lift them and try to replicate the products.”

When the consumer gets their dress delivered—if it’s delivered at all—nine times out of ten there’s a problem. “You’re likely to get material that is not the same quality,” Stoner says. “Nor will you get the same standards in sewing and construction.” There’s also the question of fit—as in, it might not. “They use an image to create a pattern, so the end quality of the product is not going to be the same,” she points out.

Because of their pilfered images and copy, these fraudulent websites can look very legit and their prices aren’t low enough to raise many red flags. The websites this reporter saw generally sold the faux Favianas about 2/3rds the retail price, making it seem like they were merely discounted.

So what recourse does the frustrated consumer have when her dream dress arrives and it’s a nightmare? “None,” Stoner says. “It’s impossible to contact or to have any kind of a dialog whatsoever with these companies.”

While designers and retailers do their best to shut these fraudulent sites down, most are located overseas and will simply switch hosts when confronted with wrongdoing. What can a consumer do to ensure she’s dealing with a legitimate retailer? Stoner says to “make sure it’s secure, recommended by the Better Businesss Bureau and has working contact information.” Omid Moradi,  CEO of Faviana encourages consumers to check the authorized retailer list on the designer’s site and if there’s any question at all, “have them email a query to sales@faviana.com to verify the seller is legitimate.”

“There isn’t anything they can do,” she says of the consumer who gets duped online. “They’ll end up believing they bought a Faviana dress and when they get it, it can look completely different because they’re using an image to create a pattern, so the end quality of the product is not going to be the same.  A lot of times it’s impossible to contact or to have any kind of a dialog whatsoever with the knockoff site. So that additionally frustrates consumers. That’s when they reach out to other distributors because they can reach us, when they discover that they haven’t ordered from a website that carries the authentic product and they’re very upset. Except to be upset.

Getting ready for prom 2012? Don’t miss these four common disasters to avoid when shopping for your 2012 prom dress!

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