I-Team: Wedding dress sites target bridal parties with woeful results

CINCINNATI- Just in time for peak wedding season, a whole cottage industry has emerged ready to ruin the dreams of couples set to tie the knot. Hundreds of websites show true designer wedding wear, from bridal gowns to bridesmaids’ and mother-of-the-bride dresses. But the true pictures don’t translate into a real product.

Lisa Hershey found the perfect yellow sunflower bridesmaids’ dresses at a bridal shop, then went online and thought she found the same dress for less. It featured the same name, style number, exact photo with the same color and identifying design details. She checked the site and found glowing recommendations posted online. She ordered the less expensive dress.

Months later, a box arrived in the mail – from China. Hershey says, “I just kind of opened the box and it’s one of those things where you get really, really excited to get something in the mail and you kind of open it up and your face falls.”

The dress that arrived was nothing like the one in the picture, different material quality and color, white instead of yellow, with none of the special details that had made her choose this design. Hershey now suspects those glowing recommendations were fake. She complained, along with brides across the nation, to the consumer protection service SiteJabber . The site has posted complaints including shoddy looking replicas, wrong shipments and no refunds despite posted “100 percent guarantees.”

That’s for brides that get anything at all.

Shopkeepers in Cincinnati’s Reading Wedding District say some brides get no shipments for their money, with no way to arbitrate because credit card companies won’t make good on foreign businesses that open and close on a whim, despite advertising longevity in business, shifting to new names with the same online merchandise.

Tina Minshall manages Bridal and Formal, packed with thousands of dresses from under $100 to $10,000 and up. She says, “Fake dresses are a bride’s worst nightmare.”

Minshall says, “These days everyone’s on a budget and they want the designer dresses but they don’t have the budget for it, so the first place most people turn to is the Internet.” She says it’s great for research but it’s very hard to tell the real dress sites from the fake – except for the price. “When you’re looking at websites and if you see that the dress of your dreams is retailing at $5,000 on everybody else’s website and this website has it for $500, you’re not getting that dress.”

Some designer houses have taken to posting on their own sites the dozens of copycat sites, trying to warn brides and bridal parties. (Example: http://www.watters.com/Content/BuyerBeware/ )The message has gotten through to some brides, like Kerstin Lawson, who has tried on more than 100 dresses in her search for the perfect one. She says the dress “is a sign of everything every little girl’s waited for every part of their life. It’s that one day they’ve always dreamed about and they want it to be perfect.”

Lawson says she has friends who ordered online, only to regret it. Minshall says besides losing money, the brides often lose time and find out they’ve been had too late to order the real dress. She advises that dress shops can help brides get the look they’re after for much less, using off-brand designers and accessories, or buying last year’s designer dresses on sale.

Hershey says she was lucky enough to have planned through a long engagement so she was able to order the right bridesmaids dresses in time, ‘though she lost her money. “You can’t do that to people. I mean, I understand… that’s how they make money but at the same time ‘though, people are ordering these based off of trust.”
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