By ANGELINE JANE BERNABE and SANDRA TEMKO, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — If you have Instagram or Facebook, you’ve likely run into advertisements on your social media feed for everything from beauty products and clothing to household items from small boutiques.
Sometimes, sellers promise a lot at low prices. But for many consumers, it’s hard to tell if those items are worth the buy. Still, with branding and unbeatable prices, it’s often tempting to purchase those products and see for yourself.
But in October, the Federal Trade Commission revealed an increase in complaints from people who say they lost money purchasing items through some social media ads. The spike in complaints happened at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the FTC.
In addition, the Better Business Bureau has warned against some products advertised in social media feeds from online boutiques.
“You might see something in your news feed that looks terrific,” said Katherine Hutt, a spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau. “Sometimes, it’ll look great in the ad and look terrible once you get it.”
One person who says she was disappointed with her purchase was Kyla Nardini, who saw a Facebook ad for a rainbow-colored bed set from Funnydressing. She told ABC News’ Good Morning America that she ordered a queen blanket set and four pillow cases as well as a set for her friend. In total, she spent over $120, but when it was finally delivered, it wasn’t what she was expecting.
“The pictures on the website, they did not match up with what I received at all,” said Nardini. “What I did receive was a throw blanket. And I also received a small decorative pillowcase that does not fit a bed pillow whatsoever.”
In February, the BBB opened an investigation into Funnydressing due to the amount of complaints from customers alleging that they didn’t receive the items they paid for or were disappointed with what they received. Some of those complaints included not being able to receive details on their orders or refunds, the BBB says.
To see whether products being advertised on social media lived up to their billing, ABC News’ Becky Worley tested some sites for herself based on several social media ads, including sites with complaints filed with the BBB like Funnydressing.
Security expert Theresa Payton helped analyze the sites Worley ordered from by looking up company names on the website ICANN.org, which will tell you how long the site has been up. Payton said it’s a red flag if a site has a newly registered name.
“Think about it like when you used to go to the store,” said Payton. “Often [with] this impulse buying, things would be right in front of that cash register. These [ads] are designed to do the same thing.”
For Funnydressing, Payton found that the website wasn’t registered until October 2020. However, the website claimed to be a family-owned, Paris-based establishment that had been around for 10 years.
As for the quality of the bed set, Jackie Reeve, a bedding expert from the site Wirecutter, said the product was not worth the price.
“I wouldn’t pay $20. And we’ve tested $20 blankets that are significantly nicer than this one,” Reeve said after examining the Funnydressing bedspread. “They haven’t used enough material to really fill this in. It’s not warm at all and just looks cheap.”
Of the products that were advertised and purchased from online boutiques, nine of them received a thumbs down from Wirecutter experts. Funnydressing did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
When it comes to clothing, the BBB says it receives some of the top complaints from customers who purchase apparel from boutiques that are advertised on social media.
“You might see something in your news feed that looks terrific,” said Hutt. “Sometimes it’ll look great in the ad and look terrible once you get it.”
In addition, the FTC found that most of the complaints filed by consumers said they found the ads on Facebook or Instagram.
Worley purchased six clothing items from several online boutiques to see for herself, including a blouse from a site called ZOLUCKY that claimed to offer “high quality and exclusive fashion products from independent designers.”
However, when it was delivered, Worley said she had a similar experience to the bed set purchase.
“It looked [in the ad] like something like a fine Italian knit, like the designer Missoni,” said Worley. “But when I got it, it’s polyester, it has white stitching.”
Other pieces Worley purchased included women’s cashmere sweaters retailing at more than $100 each from two other sites. But like the blouse from ZOLUCKY, an expert told ABC News it wasn’t worth the money.
“For a hundred bucks, you could do a lot better,” said Jenn Hunter, apparel editor at Wirecutter, who examined the items Worley purchased. “One was extremely thin. I wouldn’t expect it to keep you warm at all. The other cashmere sweater, I was really disappointed. When I put it on my hands, [it] almost felt greasy. That can often indicate that the manufacturer has used softeners. But those will wash out in time and then you’ll wind up with something that doesn’t feel luxurious at all.”
While Nardini got her money back through her credit card company for the bed set, and Worley was offered a refund from ZOLUCKY and offered another product from one of the sweater vendors, experts say be cautious when purchasing through social media ads.
“I would be very careful spending money through these ads,” said Hunter. “Marketers know how to phrase their language so it sounds appealing. And they often don’t deliver in my experience.”
While there are a lot of big-name brands and reputable small businesses selling high-quality goods on social media, experts say there is also misrepresentation and poor customer service that can be found on our social feeds.
Here are some additional tips before spending money on products you see on social media:
1. If it’s a brand you don’t know, skepticism should be your starting point.
2. Read the product descriptions carefully. If the price is too good to be true, there’s a reason for that.
3. Do an image search. If the picture of the clothing item is listed for sale on other sites, that’s one way to figure out if it’s a knockoff of a more well-known brand.
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