(BBB) – Shopping for the perfect dress is a crucial part of a wedding or prom. But like many purchases with a big price tag – and high stakes – there’s a lot that can go wrong. Buying a wedding dress or prom dress can come with unexpected expenses, delayed orders, surprise policies, and unwanted stress in advance of a big event.
Follow this advice to ensure that dress shopping goes smoothly:
- Start shopping early: Experts recommend buying a wedding dress between six and nine months ahead of the big day. You don’t need as much time for prom or another special occasion, but experts recommend starting a couple of months ahead. Delivery and alterations can take time, and spring is a busy season for seamstresses. The more time you have, the more you can comparison shop and the less rushed and stressed you’ll feel.
- Be clear about your budget: Be upfront about your budget, so your salesperson shows you dresses in your price range. You don’t want to fall in love with a dress only to find that it is way over your budget.
- Factor in alterations: Dress alterations can be costly, so double-check policies in advance. Some dress shops offer alterations for a flat fee or cap expenses at a certain amount.
- Don’t pay 100% upfront when buying a wedding dress: Most salons ask for a deposit of about 50% of the dress price for expensive gowns. You should not be pressured into paying the entire cost of a wedding dress upfront. Depending on where you find a prom dress, this will generally be less of an issue.
- Check the cancellation policy: Always check a store’s cancellation policy for your specific order. Each contract is different, and custom orders may have a strict cancellation policy.
- Be clear about your schedule: Brides have complained to BBB that their dresses arrived too late for alterations. Be sure to be very clear about schedules and leave extra time to resolve any issues.
- Take your dress home: After your alterations are finished, promptly pick up your dress. You can’t control what happens at the store where you found a prom dress or wedding dress – it might even go out of business – so the safest place for your dress is at your home (or the place you will be dressing on the big day).
- Want to rent? Do your homework: Renting a dress is an increasingly popular option for proms and other special events. Be sure to start early because popular styles and sizes will sell out. Also, check BBB.org before committing to a specific company.
- Check BBB: Research dress shops on BBB.org before making a purchase.
What to look for when buying a gown online
Some online sellers offer gowns that look like designer dresses for a fraction of the price. Buyers expect these dresses to be low-cost replicas, but BBB often hears that the dresses that arrive are ill-fitting and constructed from poor-quality materials. If you’ve decided to buy a wedding dress or prom dress online, keep the following tips in mind:
- Beware of counterfeit gowns: Authorized retailers are the only stores allowed to sell a designer’s gowns. Anyone else claiming to carry them is likely selling counterfeits. In fact, many dress designers do not sell their gowns online at all.
- Shopping for a deal? Be realistic: As much as a budget-conscious bride or party-goer may want to find a $5,000 dress for $350, it’s probably not going to happen. Many designers don’t allow their dresses to be discounted below a certain margin. In fact, an in-person sample sale, not online, maybe a bride’s best bet for finding a discounted gown.
- Pay with a credit card. Using a credit card is suggested because the shopper can dispute the charges if he/she doesn’t receive the item. Shoppers also have dispute rights if there are unauthorized charges on their credit card, and some card issuers have “zero liability” policies under which the cardholder pays nothing if someone steals the credit card number and uses it. Check terms and conditions with your cardholder.
- Keep documentation of your order. After completing the online order process, there may be a final confirmation page, or the shopper might receive confirmation by e-mail. We recommend that you save a copy of the web page and any e-mails for future reference and as a record of the purchase.
- Double-check delivery promises: It’s vital that your dress arrives in time, so be sure the seller clearly states its typical delivery times.
- Know your rights. Whether shopping retail or online, know your rights. According to the FTC, orders made by mail, phone, fax, or online should be shipped by the date promised or, if no delivery time was stated, within 30 days. If the goods cannot be shipped on time, the shopper must be notified of the right to cancel and receive a refund. Consumers also have the right to reject merchandise if it’s defective or misrepresented; otherwise, it’s the company’s policies that determine if the shopper can cancel the purchase and receive a refund or credit. Be sure you understand return policies before you buy.
- Understand the return policy: Review the guarantee, return, and refund policies before purchasing. Know if there is a way to return your dress (and how much it will cost) if you are not happy with it. Make sure there’s a way to contact the company where you find the prom dress or wedding dress in case of problems. An absence of contact information on a website is a big red flag when shopping online.
- Be wary of overseas sellers: Buying wedding dresses or prom dresses from an international seller may seem like a good deal. However, U.S. and Canadian laws and consumer protections will be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce.
Source: BBB.org & FTC.gov