How to Avoid Wedding Shopping Gotchas

The Better Business Bureau received more than 5,600 consumer complaints in 2015 against caterers, formal-wear companies, florists, and other vendors associated with weddings. Most were about delivery problems. A search on the BBB’s website also identified some complaints about scams related to wedding services. Though you probably won’t want to vet every product or service provider, we suggest doing so on major purchases or commitments. Here are ways not to get ripped off on the way to the altar.

Fly-by-Night Photographer

On the wedding sites The Knot and Wedding Wire, we found reports of brides who paid for photos they never received, then couldn’t track down the photographers. Of course, that could happen with other vendors, too.

What to do. Before you hire any business, do your due diligence: Ask for references, and read customer reviews on The Knot, Wedding Wire, and other wedding sites. Check ratings and look out for complaints on the BBB’s website; the organization usually follows up on legitimate gripes and strives to help consumers resolve disputes. Always insist on a signed contract, but read the fine print first.

Gown on Deep Discount, Cash Only

Bridal shops in financial distress have been known to offer goods at fire-sale prices for cash up front. Then they close fast, stranding customers.

What to do. Avoid such enticements. Use a credit card, which may help you get back your money.

Bridal Show Come-ons

Visitors to bridal shows and expos may be invited to join—or be automatically enrolled in—contests, sweepstakes, and raffles. The prizes may be real, but they can come with hidden costs. An American Bridal Show event held in March in Edison, N.J., for instance, advertised four Grand Prize Honeymoon Giveaways, including seven nights and eight days of hotel accommodations. Tiny print noted that airfare and taxes were not included, and some locations required winners to purchase more expensive all-inclusive packages. Attendees may later get emails saying that they’ve won cookware or a vacation when the real goal is to sell time-shares or other goods and services. A bride from Superior, Wis., complained in February on the BBB site that putting her name on a bridal show list drew an unwelcome door-to-door vacuum-cleaner salesman.

What to do. Don’t register in advance. And share your contact information sparingly.

Chinese Knockoffs

Some brides order counterfeit versions of designer gowns for a fraction of the price. But that economic alternative could wind up crushing dreams instead of fulfilling them. A bride from Indiana learned that the hard way. In 2013 she paid $221.79 to a manufacturer in China to copy a $1,375 Justin Alexander design. We compared the counterfeit and original versions and saw that what she received had different fabric, a too-short train, and no tulle underskirt, among other flaws. The company offered a partial refund, and she wound up purchasing the real thing from her local bridal store.

What to do. Think twice about ordering that way. And if an online company claims to sell a certain label, go to the manufacturer’s site to make sure.

More on Weddings

• Get More Wedding for Your Money• Cheap Wedding: 31 Ways to Save on the Festivities• Should You Spring for a Wedding Planner?• Can You Spot the $10,000 Wedding Gown?• How Much Should a Wedding Guest Give?

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the June 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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