Buying a prom dress online? BBB suggests you rethink that idea. But if you must ...

BBB recommends shopping local for a prom dress.
BBB recommends shopping local for a prom dress. Associated Press file

Q: A few years ago my daughter and I had a horrible experience purchasing her prom dress from an online retailer. We found the perfect dress at the price that fit our budget. However, the dress came in weeks after the set delivery date and the dress was not what we expected, to say the least. I have another daughter looking to buy her prom dress online. Should we stay away from online retailers altogether or is there somethings we can do to have a better experience?

Blair Looney

A: Before online shopping, the worst-case scenario was finding out that another girl is wearing the exact same dress as you, and you would have to spend the entire night dancing in the same room with your dress doppelganger.

Nowadays with prom costs rising, families are looking to online shopping in hopes to save some money on the dress. The beauty of the internet is that it allows an individual to browse and choose from literally thousands of dresses, minimizing chances of someone duplicating the look. The internet also offers “designer” dresses at a fraction of the cost! Thus buying a dress online seems reasonable, convenient and frugal.

However, with shady foreign companies and overseas shipping, a duplicate look will be the least of one’s worries when the dress is not delivered, or it is delivered but fits an 8-year-old sibling.

To add to all the issues at hand, buying items overseas more often than not means having limited options in regards to returning the item, assuming that the customer representative actually responds to an inquiry. Which leaves a promgoer with no dress, wrongly sized dress or what used to be a dress, and out hundreds of dollars paid for that perfect designer dress found at 60 percent off online.

To be safe and enjoy this prom season, follow these BBB tips:

Choose actual over virtual – While it can be tempting to order designer dresses at half the price online, there are inherent risks in doing so. Your BBB recommends looking for similarly-priced gowns in dress shops in your community.

Compare prices – Not all shopping websites are created equal. Make sure you do enough research to understand the mean price for the item for which you are looking. If you are well informed, it’s unlikely you will be oversold or fall victim to “too good to be true” offers.

Know your back-up plan – It is even more crucial when you are shopping online to read and understand the exchange and return policies of the business from which you are buying. Order early just in case.

Call Customer Service before you buy – If you can’t get a hold of a real person at a company, that is generally a red flag. If you are considering buying a dress online, give the company’s customer service department a call and go over with them their return, exchange and delivery policies.

Check with your local BBB first, we have a myriad of reports on online companies, but even if the company you are considering isn’t listed on our website, BBB can give you advice and industry tips to help you make a decision.

BBB helps consumers find and recommend businesses, brands and charities they can trust. If you have any questions or concerns, please give us a call at 800-675-8118 or visit

Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 2600 W. Shaw Lane, Fresno, CA 93711 or