There’s a humorous side, too, which has found delightful expression on social networks such as Facebook.
One such page is “Knock-Off Nightmares” - dedicated to showing consumers the reality of ordering formal wear online. It’s achieved almost 110000 likes so far, highlighting some truly awful horror stories. From formal dresses that look nothing like the opulent online couture images, to “Special Man” - a rip on Superman - and the misshapen, cheap knock-off wedding dresses that were simply too good to be true.
One follower, Kirsten Moss, posted: “Lesson learned! Ordered off Wish and this is what I ordered compared to what I got.
“It’s supposed to be (an) oversized swim cover, and we got (an) oversized half shirt.” Instead of the sexy oversized beachwear, it resembled a drab cotton kiddies’ beach towel - without the hoodie.
Another, Shelby Hawkins Clark, said: “We ordered this from PromEver. When we asked to return it, they told me there was nothing wrong with it, that the original picture’s lighting is different and to just get it hemmed. Never ever again!! Lol.
“The beadwork is not even remotely similar, you can see the outline of the bust cups, the skirt wasn’t cut on the bias so it just hangs there instead of being flattering, and the halter top’s edge along the stomach is rippled.”
Never mind the dress’s poor flow, the cheap fabric and tacky beadwork were a disaster.
Linda Herman wrote: “Been there, I paid over $200 for mine; it was a beach wedding dress. Never shopped online before, so the thought never crossed my mind to actually Google the company reviews.
“Not even close to the pictures, and luckily paid through PayPal, I opened a dispute and got my money back. I googled the image, found the store and designer was listed for over $700; I e-mailed them with pictures and the website, they emailed back thanking me.
“The dress is no longer on Modlily, and they are all the same place. They just make up a bunch of names; as someone else stated, it’s a huge sweatshop, luckily I found a dress in a week.”
And Melanie (no surname) wrote: “I bought the famous ‘black sweater’ from Rotita. It is made from the material used to make cheap Dollar Store Halloween costumes.
“They forgot to cut a hole in the hoodie for my head to go through. I can cut eye holes in it, maybe? Isn’t there some consumer protection agency that can help us?”
Knock-Off Nightmares notes: “The APBIA (American Bridal and Prom Industry Association) does its best to shut down these sites, but as soon as one gets shut down, 20 more pop up. Honestly, the only way to protect ourselves is to buy from reputable companies.”
How do we find most of these online retailers? Social media. But what currency, though, should be attached to Facebook “likes”? And how much do they influence trust in sites that are potentially problematic?
Nadia Essack saw a few of her Facebook friends had “liked” Kapsule.co.za on the site, so she visited the website, found a pair of shoes she wanted and ordered them in January for a special occasion, but these never arrived.
So she mailed the site’s support, payment and orders department, then called the company in Port Elizabeth. Each time, the automated response was: “We have received your mail.
“Please be aware that KAPSULE is experiencing high email volumes, but a qualified KAPSULE Customer Support Agent will respond to your email as quickly as possible.”
That was in January. By June, she’d had enough: she had, at various points, been promised a refund had been processed but, months down the line, she was given the proverbial run-around. Then they appeared to block her - via the TrueCaller app and e-mail. She could see staff actively checking TrueCaller, yet her calls were avoided.
“I hope I can prevent others from this scam and hopefully get my money back. My husband has had weird experiences with his card, so I thought it best to do an EFT. I paid R1399,” she wrote on my Ask Georgie Facebook page. “It’s so disappointing when people do this.”
I battled to get hold of them, too, sending a few mails and calling. Eventually, a staff member answered and told me the person I wanted to speak to was out on lunch.
The next day that person was on maternity leave. She couldn’t/wouldn’t give me a manager, nor find the contact details for the owner. Days later, she gave the owner’s number, which was unanswered.
Then proof of payment was submitted, with an apology for the delay, blaming a system glitch: “Please find attached PoP as promised. We humbly apologise to Mrs Nadia Essack, everything the (sic) could have possibly went wrong with this order did, from the initial delay in the order all the way to the refund not being processed duly.
“We would like to ship her the ordered shoes for free as soon as this afternoon, to show our humble apologies to her. This is the first time that this has happened and regret that it has taken this long to resolve. Thank you.”
Essack’s finally received her refund, and only because of media intervention.
Before you do any business on these sites, check that they provide essential information - including full names, physical addresses, proper descriptions of the goods or services being sold, costs and the terms of sale.
Kapsule’s site looks like a budget production: the images are pix-elated and of poor quality; they use a Zotabox link, which an IT contact tells me is a free plug-in platform, which no business “worth their salt would use on a professional website, meaning they’ve put it together at the lowest possible cost which is very bad for your image”.
For fun, I googled a few of their images: Kapsule is advertising clothing imports that are ridiculously cheap compared to other international sites.
Their Tripoli Jumpsuit - as worn by actress Naturi Naughton - costs R1499, but an Australian online retailer charges in excess of R11560.
Then there’s the “Stella Dress”, going for R1899, but on www.luisaviaroma, the Floral Vine Lace number goes for 485 (R7021); while another dress is sold for R1999 on site but R5857 elsewhere.
If you want to order online - especially clothes and shoes, which are often tricky size-wise, rather spend on reputable sites - Spree, Zando, Woolworths, Superbalist, etc.