It seems like every time I have logged into Facebook in the past month I have seen a sponsored ad from a clothing company by the name of SammyDress. The ad, which features a model in a cream dress with cute buttons down the side, boasts thousands of likes and comments. The ad seems to have really done it’s job because hundreds of women have gone to the website and purchased the dress. How do I know? Upon reading the comments on the ad, I discovered that none of these customers ever received their dress (or any items their purchased from the website) and are now struggling to contact a seemingly non-existent customer service. What’s more worrisome is that this is not an unusual situation, there are dozens of shopping sites on the internet that consistently frustrate shoppers with unusual and secretive business practices, this site just has a better marketing plan than the rest. So, how can you avoid unnecessary stress and potential loss of money while still enjoying the convenience of online shopping? I would like to share an insider’s perspective on the online shopping market to keep you safe and happy through your shopping experience.
As an online retail boutique owner myself, I often make wholesale purchases online from clothing manufacturers. When I first got into the business, I had very little experience finding leads on indie designers or cool new clothing labels, so I turned to Google. My first few searches turned up some great stuff, designers and lines that you probably have in your closet right now – but as a new business owner without many funds, I wasn’t able to make huge purchases from them all, so I became very picky and wanted to see everything on the market before making my buying decisions. This is when I came across International Wholesale Sites. There are TONS of them, and ‘strangely’ none of the ones I looked at during these searches still exist. They shut down quickly. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say they are “scam” sites, I would recommend exercising extreme caution if you decide to make a purchase from one of these websites. Here are the facts:
1. Beware of “Wholesale” Sites
While they call themselves “wholesale” sites, they are nothing of the sort. I am able to shop at actual wholesale sites because I have a state tax ID and a registered retail business; without these documents most manufacturers and designers won’t even let you look at their product. International Wholesale websites ask for no such credentials, but still claim to offer you a wholesale price. Perhaps it’s just semantics, but they are offering a retail price, because they are in the retail business. Sometimes reputable closeout websites will use wording such as “below wholesale prices” or something similar, this is a marketing decision and not the same issue. If a site claims to be selling wholesale but doesn’t require credentials or a minimum purchase, that is a red flag and you should consider taking your money elsewhere.
2. The picture is just an “example”
Many international clothing sites WILL actually fulfill your order (they don’t just take your money and run) but that doesn’t mean that you get what was in the picture. Oftentimes the photo is an outdated example of the garment that you will receive, the color, fit, length, pattern or overall structure might be completely different than you thought it would be based on the images. This isn’t a case of “colors may appear differently on different computer monitors” this is a different garment than you thought you were ordering. Sometimes they will steal photos of designer items and insist that you will receive the item in the photo. Besides being a nuisance to you, they are also committing a crime against the designer of the original product. One time, I purchased a jacket for a photoshoot I was working on and actually really liked it. The fit was VERY small but it did the trick on my model. I liked it so much I decided to carry a few of them in my shop, however, upon re-ordering (just a couple of weeks later) I got an unfortunate, Frankenstein’s monster version of the once-cute jacket. The fabric had changed, the buttons were twice the size and the fit was lopsided. Exact same item – just, not at all. Which brings me to concern #3
3. There is no return policy.
Most of these international fashion sites do not offer returns at all, or if they do are under VERY specific circumstances. In most cases, even if a return were an option, the high price of international shipping would be enough to make most customers bite the bullet and keep the unwanted item. If you cannot live without an item, just know that you will HAVE to live with it once you make the purchase. Some sites (like Alibaba/Aliexpress) feature individual sellers who may have their own individual return policies. Be aware that there is not a lot of support when things go awry. Unlike sites like eBay, Amazon, Storenvy and etsy which all have great customer support, there isn’t always parent company that will step in when things get weird between you and a seller. Beware of sites that are hands-off like this; you don’t want to shop from a platform that makes it easy for scammers to scam you.
4. If The item is out of stock – they still keep your money.
Perhaps the most worrisome fact about these questionable sites is their practice of dealing with out-of-stock merchandise. It goes like this – you buy a skirt, the website is out of the skirt, they may or MAY NOT inform you of that fact. If you are contacted about the out-of-stock item, you may not receive your funds back, instead they put them into you “account” which is essentially a store credit. So you HAVE TO buy something else. If you fight the policy, you won’t hear back from them. These websites are excellent at disappearing when customers become upset.
5. They are selling on Etsy
As a long time fan, and seller on Etsy, I am most disappointed by this recent development. Some of the items you come across in Etsy shops are not handmade/vintage at all but are cheaply manufactured goods from overseas pretending to be the work of artisans. These items can be harder to spot, and the only advice I can give you is to become familiar with what the international wholesale stock photos look like and make a point to avoid them when they pop up on Etsy. There has been a massive movement recently to remove scammers from the site, but I still see them on there consistently. Beware of sellers that do not want to answer questions or have a suspicious return policy (most sellers will take back returns on non-custom, non-clearance items).
6. VERY poor quality items.
So lets say you just can’t resist and want to make the purchase anyway? Even if you avoid all of the inconveniences listed above, you still may not be satisfied with your item. Before researching these sites (and testing their product) I had the thought that many of you might have – “plenty of items I use every day are imported and are of great quality – what’s the big deal?” Yes, we live in a world of cheap, imported items, but they are still held to standard of quality (however high or low) that you are familiar with. The main issue with these products is that you have no way of knowing what their quality standards are, and they are usually VERY low. I would say that the quality is much lower than that of Forever21 or Walmart, and the prices are actually no lower (especially when you consider international shipping.)
Best practices to avoid major retail disappointment:
– Shop USA-run sites, and locally if you can!
Avoid sites with names or tags like “cheap wholesale fashion” AND “fashion” or similar word and then a number (ex: “fashion7” “cuteclothes28”)
Clothing is generally described as Korean, Japanese and Chinese.
As a rule of thumb, if the price seems to good to be true, it is.
Buy only from sites that have some sort of customer service. Don’t give your info to a business that refuses to give you theirs.
Read reviews of the site (or seller) before making a purchase.
If you have had a bad experience with a retailer, take it up with them first. If you are still unsatisfied, let the world know! Save someone else the frustration and hassle!