Prom dress shopping online? Experts say do your homework first

BALTIMORE - It's the Super Bowl for teenage girls: Prom night is a highlight of their high school careers and getting the right dress is key.  But if they're not careful shopping, they could end up in trouble.

From beads to bright colors and bold designs, the perfect prom dress might have all that and more.  But chances are it comes with something else that's important to consider: a big price tag.  Angie Barnett with the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland says, "Young girls are spending hundred and hundreds of dollars on these prom dresses that are usually a one night experience."

But since the kids are usually spending your money, many are going online to save mom and dad a few bucks.  Barnett says if that's the case with your children, they need to be wary, "There's no guarantee you're going to get what you expect and this is a time of very high expectations."

The expectations may be dashed because often these dresses are made and sold overseas in China.  Barnett says if you decide to go that route when you're dress shopping, you need to do some homework on the company and their terms and conditions of sale.  She explains, "The prom is a certain date.  What happens if the dress isn't going to be delivered or isn't received in time for the prom?  What's the cancellation? What's the refund policy?"

Those are important questions to consider because it's possible the dress you order may not look like it did online or may not fit.  And that's if you even get a dress.  The BBB warns some online dress retailers may be a sham.  Barnett says, "If you're buying a $500 dress for $25, that's a huge discrepancy.  Ask yourself why, why is that dress cheaper and is it literally too good to be true?"

Experts say you should use your credit card if you buy a dress online so you can dispute the charges if something goes wrong.  And before you buy, do some comparison shopping at brick and mortar stores you know so you have an idea on pricing.

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