Buying a prom dress from the USA

Trying to get the best value for what we buy sometimes doesn't necessarily mean getting it at the cheapest price.

We often get calls from customers once they have seen a dress on a US web site and have noticed that we are a stockist of that label in the UK. The most common question we get is 'Can you match the price of the US web site?' and there are web sites that will even offer free worldwide shipping to entice you into buying from them. We know from our customers that buying from abroad can often not be the type of experience they thought it would be, especially if there ends up being a problem or it is the wrong size or fit.

One of the biggest warnings we can give, and this is based on customers we have had into our boutique, is to make sure you are dealing with a real company. There has been a marked increase in websites who have copied images from the real designers but they are in fact Chinese factories who copy the dresses. Fab Frocks is actively working with our designers to close down these websites who will also pass themselves off as being based in the USA when in fact your dress will arrive from China. The US fashion industry is taking this seriously and in 2012 set up a task force to actively search the internet and work to close down these rogue traders. This is a long and drawn out process as they close and then reappear under a different website or from a different factory in China.

The enticement of a cheap price could get you a dress that is substandard or even nothing delivered at all. It is highly likely that the dress will be a fake and will not have gone through the quality control the designers insist on for their styles. As one customer said to us 'When we opened the box the dress I found inside I wouldn't even have used as a dish rag'. Another customer called having ordered a Precious Formals dress from the USA only to be told that the dress had been 'Lost in the post'. We carried out some investigation with the designer and the site the dress was purchased from, while stating they were in the USA, were in fact based in China. The customer was still trying to get her money back having paid for a dress that never arrived.

Know the real cost

Of course as consumers we have responsibilities when we buy goods from abroad and one of the other enticements from websites in China or the US are to mark the invoice as 'Sample' and give a false price so you pay lower import duty and VAT. We found one site that actively promoted this saying:

'And sometimes, we will choose the best shipping method for you according to your event date for you to get fewer taxes. And we will also do something to help you to get fewer taxes or even free taxes, for example, we will put " Sample" , and lower amount (maybe USD 30, USD 50, USD 80) on shipping bill. If you do not want these words appeared on shipping bill, please inform us when ordering. '

As the person who is importing the goods you are legally responsible for this and UK Customs are always on the look out for goods coming into the country who are trying to evade import duty and VAT.

Of course we all want to get the best value for our money and we hope that our prices combined with the service we offer represent good value. When you see a price that is just hard to believe then there is normally a catch somewhere along the line. However, we wanted to be sure that if you do decide to order from abroad that you are aware of the real cost of doing so.

REad the small print

  • If you need to send the dress back for some reason the cost of return is generally at your cost and can be as much as £30
  • US websites often don't provide a refund but a store credit instead so you won't get your money back and there is usually a return handling fee.
  • There is no legal right of return for a mail order purchase if you change your mind when buying outside of the EU.
  • Import Duty and VAT are not refunded when you send a dress back so you will lose this money

We have been informed by the designers that a number of Chinese factories are now setting up websites giving the impression you are dealing with a UK company but they are selling copies of their designs. They are also using the designers copyrighted images to sell these dresses. You should be aware that you are not buying from the designer and it will be a copy of the dress shown in the picture not the original design. If in any doubt then feel free to contact us. We continue to work with our suppliers who are now taking legal action against these Chinese factories as they are uncovered.

There is now a website that is blacklisting suspected fake dress websites so you can see which sites have scammed people into buying fake dresses or even not getting a dress at all.

We hope that you have found this information useful. The US web sites don't often give you details of the additional charges you will incur when your goods come into the UK and the free shipping claims can look very enticing. We hear so many horror stories from customers who were tempted by the apparent savings and it has ended up costing them more than buying from a UK stockist. Even worse, they have ended up paying twice when a dress just hasn't arrived and they have lost the money!

If you still want to go ahead with ordering from the website you have found then please don't pay with a debit card.

It is not just us that has seen the results of these fake websites. Other shops are seeing the results of the problem too and you can read more on the links below.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: If I get them to send my dress as a gift I can get away with paying extra?
A: The sender is required to put on the customs declaration whether the goods have been bought or are a gift but you are legally responsible for the information on the declaration and if it is wrong your delivery may be delayed or even seized.

Q: There isn't any VAT or import duty if it's a gift is there?
A: If your dress is between £15.01 and £135 then you don't have to pay import duty but you do have to pay the 20% VAT. If it is over £135 then you are liable for both extra costs on top of your dress.

For more information see the Revenue and Customs Website

Fab Frocks will continue to work with our designers to stamp out fakes in fashion to ensure that the people that buy our collections are receiving genuine and quality products. If we can be of any further help or provide further information please don't hesitate to contact us