Scrolling through Facebook, I always see the same mishmash of postings — there is that friend who always posts the cupcake in a mug how-to video, the political activist friend who posts videos every few minutes comparing Hilary Clinton to the Antichrist, Farmville friends (who are immediately unfriended) and finally, ads sponsored by Facebook.
Thrown in with American Apparel and Nike are the ambiguous online department advertisements for RoseGal, Rowme and Zaful, to name a few. The advertisements show beautiful, high-quality clothing for way below discount price. A dress that looks like it should cost 50 bucks only costs 10. To a bargain guru such as myself, these ads at first glance look like a gateway to my personal fashion nirvana, but as many fashionistas already know, nothing could be further from the truth.
BuzzFeed News reported Tuesday that discount online shopping departments sponsored on Facebook are often scams. The companies that back the brands steal photos from other websites, advertise that they sell the exact same product and dish out skimpy results. The clothes never look like they do in the photos and are oftentimes too small or made of terrible material. Some customers have complained that the clothes smell like chemicals. Yet there is no reprieve for all the customer complaints, as the customer service options offered on the sites are unreachable and the sites themselves are electronically geared to only show positive feedback with thousands of likes.
We have all seen the comparison photos of the online model versus what came in the mail — the white lace dress that looks like Cinderella’s wedding gown, perfectly elegant and shapely on the model versus the green disaster with a mismatched top and bottom that is 3 feet too short and 4 feet too wide. That doesn’t stop us from buying, however.
In 2014, the group that owns most of these sketchy web stores, ShenZhen Globalegrow E-Commerce Co., made $200 million dollars, according to BuzzFeed News. This may be because none of its products are usable and are nearly impossible to return. But more importantly, it may be because we, as global consumers, are all very gullible.
Today we are bombarded with ads everywhere we turn. From social media’s sponsored ads to just walking down the street, someone is always trying to sell us something. And usually, we buy it. Like me, many people see these trendy online boutiques and immediately want to buy items merely for the sake of the deal. And maybe we know its a little sketchy — maybe we even know that we might be getting ripped off — but we are also convinced we are able to return the items.
Perhaps I am making too much of a generalization, but from the conversations I’ve had about online shopping, it’s always ended with, “Well, you can always return it.” In almost every instance, they are right. Most online clothing companies pride themselves on their return policies, but in the case of these scam websites, that is not the case.
That being said, with a vast world of Internet shopping, it’s no surprise that there are companies that bank on customers’ vulnerabilities and exploit them, as Globalegrow has. There are ways we can protect ourselves, however. Facebook has a setting in which users can choose not to see certain ads, though scams will always arise no matter how many are blocked.
An added layer of protection is looking up customer reviews and real product photos online. Though the companies’ public relations are well managed, they cannot control the Internet. No one can control it, and that is perhaps more daunting than the Internet scams themselves. It’s the Wild West of the web, and the best we can do as consumers is show up fully dressed to the duel.