Upon opening the package from Romwe she was immediately disappointed. The bathing suit she could not wait to show off this summer was a complete size off. The loose, t-shirt style dress she imagined herself wearing to class was more of a fitted party type.
Each time Cassie Mojica, a sophomore nursing major at Drexel University, raised an article of clothing out of its packaging, she fell deeper in regret for falling victim to an online scam that has plagued hundreds of online shoppers all over the nation.
Chinese websites like Romwe, DressLily, RoseGal, Twinkledeals, Zaful, Nastydress, and Sammydress have been advertising cute, yet affordable clothing for online shoppers on websites like Facebook, causing buyers to flock to their sites- only to be disappointed with what actually ends up on their doorstep.
For years businesses have been using social media platforms like YouTube or Facebook to gain revenue through “pay per click” advertising, and by casually reminding users as they scroll through their accounts that, yes, the shirt they saw on that one site is still on sale.
Shenzhen Global Egrow E-commerce Co., the company that owns many of these scam sites, recently released a statement in response to BuzzFeed’s article entitled “Just Say No To The Dress,” which attacked the clothing companies for false advertising.
In their response, Global Egrow wrote a rebuttal which appeared in the BuzzFeed article “Chinese Company Behind Cheap Facebook Clothing Ads Responds.” The company claimed that the first article by BuzzFeed implied that most customers are dissatisfied with their shopping experience, when “in fact, the vast majority of our customers from all over the world are overjoyed with our products. That’s why our websites have millions of likes on their Facebook pages.”
Recently, outrage has increased from Facebook users who can’t believe that the social media site has allowed the scamming, prompting a statement from the vice president of advertisements and pages for Facebook, Andrew Bosworth.
In the beginning of April, Bosworth wrote in an e-mail to BuzzFeed News that “One of our most important goals with Facebook ads is to present experiences that are relevant and high-quality. We need to understand the gravity of this issue and we’re taking it very seriously.”
Almost a month later, users can still find advertisements for sites like Romwe and DressLily popping up on the side of their screens, urging them to take advantage of a sale that would make the most frugal of buyers giddy with excitement.
Why do these advertisements need to pop up? Can they be hidden away? Who’s making money from these ads?
Well, let’s go back to the beginning of web advertising.
According to the information article entitled “How Web Advertising Works” by How Stuff Works, it can be understood that there are two types of websites: E-commerce sites and Content sites. When dealing with online clothing companies, customers are dealing with e-commerce sites- or sites that make their money from the products they sell.
At first, advertisements on the internet meant banner ads that were featured at the top of a web page, and companies could charge money to run them on their pages. Now more and more companies are using a sidebar ad, which takes longer to be scrolled off the page- yielding a higher click-through rate. This means that companies hosting the advertisements can charge more and make more for the ads to run on their pages.
In some cases, the ads can be hidden away- but not completely. Facebook provides the option for their users to hide ads they don’t want to see, be given an explanation for why they’re seeing the ad in the first place, or click that they think the ad is useful, which will prompt more ads like it to appear.
A few weeks after Facebook announced it would be taking the clothing scam advertisement problem seriously, I tried a little experiment. After researching on sites like Romwe and DressLily I went onto my Facebook page, and was surprised to find advertisements for those sites still on the side of my newsfeed- almost a month after Facebook had recognized the problem. Then, after looking up an answer to a question (which occurs a lot being a college student) I found that Answers.com also had those ads up for my viewership. While creating citations for my final paper, I found another ad for Romwe on Easybib. That’s three heavily used websites, with the possibility of the ads appearing on more sites than what I discovered.
Marshall Brain, the founder of How Stuff Works, recently wrote an article on “How Web Advertisements Work.” In an e-mail interview, Brain described how companies don’t necessarily need to be certified to run advertisements on other websites. “You could create a random e-mail account, then a google ad account, and start running ads on Google, even for a product that does not exist. Google will often detect that the product is imaginary and stop running the ads, but this can take days or weeks.”
How about a product that is imaginary in the sense that the customer has to imagine the clothing they actually received is what they wanted?
“Facebook could probably do quite a bit more to determine that only ‘legitimate’ companies are using their ad platform,” says Brain.
He explains that they should be able to use an Employer Identification Number (EIN) or The Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS), because both identification systems are used to identify a business entity.
“But,” he continues, “Even legit companies can sometimes run scams and paint outside the lines.”
In order to passively fight the websites responsibly, consumers have flocked to the internet to voice their concerns and raise awareness.
There are Facebook groups, like “SammyDress RipOff,” a group created by a consumer scammed in 2014 where other users can post their horror stories and other websites they have had problems with.
Even bloggers like Lindsay Ferrier, the creator of Suburban Turmoil, have spoken out and posted pictures of the clothing she ordered for herself- and the child-sized clothing she actually received that impeccably fit her ten year old daughter.
Ripoff Report, a website dedicated to providing its users with an outlet to discuss their problems with virtually anything, has become flooded with complaints about online clothing websites accused of scamming its customers.
“I bought 107.36 worth of merchandise from Sammydress.com. About three weeks later I received an e-mail saying that I was getting a partial refund of $10,” writes a user named Christine. “When I called the number provided to complain, of course, it went straight to voicemail.”
“WORST experience ever. Lost over 300 Euro with this company!!!” wrote one distraught user named Molly. “Delivery got delayed almost 3 weeks with no notice. I was not able to cancel my delivery due to the delay. One of the items was wrong, and the parcel did not include any details for returning the items.”
Ed Magedson, the creator and editor of the site, said in an over the phone interview that his website was once credited with the ability to “embarrass companies to take action.”
He advises that before ordering anything online, consumers should Google the name of the company along with “rip off” to check for any negative incidents that may have occurred.
Last month Mike Xu, CEO of Global Egrow, told BuzzFeed News that the company has been struggling to cope with its rapid growth, leading to a drop in clothing quality caused by not having enough suppliers. However, he admits that there were many disputes prior to the recent lack of suppliers.
So far consumers are still complaining, and the prior mentioned clothing websites are still advertising their products on Facebook.
Will consumers continue to order from these sites, knowing they may be scammed?
“I still wore the stuff, I just wasn’t totally sold on the material,” explains Mojica. “But, I wouldn’t order from anything like that again. I’m pretty skeptical about ordering clothes online now because I wanna make sure I only pay for something that actually fits me.”