Consumer Alert: Wonder why I’m wearing a long princess gown on TV? It’s to save you money online!
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Why go to a store when you can shop in your pajamas? Need a new tie? Point. Click. Done. But when you buy something on the site of your favorite retailer, do you know if it was actually sold by that retailer? That website may actually be a marketplace where third-party sellers can also peddle their wares. That’s why consumers must use care before they click.
This twisted tale started when a viewer emailed me a picture of a brooch she did not buy. It just showed up in the mail. A note in the package said it was a gift. The sender was a business named Unomatch in Fair Lawn, New Jersey.
With a quick search of public records, I discovered the business address is actually a house and the owner of that home is a man named Rizwan Choudhry. The shop’s Facebook page is littered with spelling and grammar mistakes. In big bold letters, the word clothing is plural. He’s a third-party seller. And he’s peddling his wares on websites with names you know like Walmart, Kmart and Sears.
“It can be very confusing because it’s under the same website,” said Michelle Madhok, an online shopping expert and the founder and CEO of SHEfinds. “It’s got the same kind of branding on it when you’re clicking on it, and all they’re doing is sending it over to someone else who is going to hopefully send it to you. A lot of them are small businesses and a lot of them are overseas perhaps coming from China."
She said the confusion often leads consumers to unwittingly ordering from third-party sellers.
"You need to look at where it’s coming from, what the estimated shipping is, if there are any reviews,” she added.
For example, while Unomatch clothing is sold on Walmart.com, the shipper is Hang Sang Accessories, another business owned by Choudhry. The items are not shipped by Walmart. That’s key to determining which items are being sold by third parties instead of the retailer.
As for reviews? For most Unomatch products on the site, there are none.
"No reviews usually means that this is a brand new seller," Madhok said.
Or it’s a bad old seller hiding behind a brand new name.
I emailed Rizwan Choudry, and when I asked about his products he admitted. "I am doing home base, back to back order working on a very small scale… I am doing back-to-back order business from China and do not carry any stock."
He’s describing a business model called drop shipping. Just Google it and you’ll find dozens of people pitching programs to help you build a business.
"The idea behind the program is you should focus on something you can buy from China,” Madhok said.
Choudhry confirmed he gets his clothing from a Chinese website from which store owners can buy all types of products called 1688. I wanted to see the quality of the clothing.
On April 15, I ordered I bought a Unomatch dress on Walmart.com for a hundred dollars. The expected delivery date was April 27.
Six days later, I got an email from Walmart saying my dress had been delivered. I did indeed get a small thin package that measured about 2 feet by 2 feet. It certainly didn’t look big enough to hold the frilly frock I’d ordered. But it wasn’t my dress. Instead, it was a checkbook. And a note from Unomatch that said my "order was delayed." and the checkbook was a "free gift to compensate" me for the delay.
The note said I should ignore that "system generated message" from Walmart saying my item had been sent. And my note was exactly like the note that accompanied our viewer’s brooch. There was no doubt that she had unknowingly ordered a product from the same third-party seller.
Walmart requires third-party shippers to provide the tracking number of orders and "deliver the order to the customer on or before the expected delivery date".
But Unomatch provided Walmart with a tracking number for my dress that matches the tracking number of that so-called free gift, the checkbook. Was it a mistake? Or did this third-party shipper want Walmart to believe it had met the shipping deadline?
Choudhry said no. He insisted he sends those "free gifts" using the actual order’s tracking number simply because "the shipping envelop of that particular order is prepared already."
I finally got the dress on May 6, more than a week late. The formal gown is bedazzled with plastic jewels. You can find similar ones at any craft store for $1.99.
And even though the diamond-shaped beading made out of flimsy plastic has holes so a seamstress could have sewn them on, they’re glued on instead.
Of course, I had to try it on. Despite the fact that the dress only comes in sizes XS, S, M, and L, surprisingly, it fits! I’m transformed into a princess in polyester. But alas, those glued on jewels had started falling as I pulled the gown over my head.
Ah, no matter! It will take far more than that to dull the glitter and glam of a gal clad in poofy polyurethane.
In a series of emails, the owner of Unomatch insisted that he does abide by the rules required of third-party shippers, and he’s just a guy working hard to run a business from his basement.
To be clear, many third-party sellers provide quality products. And sites like Walmart’s Marketplace give them the opportunity to try and sell to a much larger audience.
As for Walmart, a spokesman wrote, “Walmart is committed to being the most trusted Marketplace and we vet every seller that joins our platform. We expect all sellers to comply with all laws and Walmart policies and we continuously monitor the site to ensure compliance. Sellers found to be out of compliance can be suspended or permanently removed from selling on Walmart.com.”
But when I told them about my experience and our viewer’s experience with this seller, they told me they would investigate it. As of this writing, they’ve not informed me of the results of their investigation.
When you’re shopping online, before you put that item in your cart, here’s Deanna’s Do List.
- Check to see who is selling and/or shipping the product. It’s always listed with the product but is usually in small print and easy to miss. If the retailer is not the seller and shipper, the product is being sold by a third-party seller.
- Use a credit card with excellent purchase protection. One example is American Express.
- Look at reviews. Ideally, you want to buy from a well-established seller with many reviews. Look at the date of those reviews. Are they all recent? That’s a red flag. Use a browser extension like Fakespot or ReviewMeta when shopping on Amazon.
- If you’re unsure about a third-party seller, Google the name of the business and the word scam or fraud. You’ll be able to determine if it has developed a poor online reputation.
And that’s your consumer alert.