In the wake of the unexpected closure of a Glasgow bridal boutique, Beth Forsyth explains what you should expect when you’re ordering your dress – and what you should know in case the worst should happen.Jumping for joy is what you should be doing in the months and weeks preceding the big day. They should be the happiest times of your life, right? Well for some, no! The devastation caused after one Glasgow boutique ceased trading without any warning in June this year hit hard some brides-to-be. Many were left dress-less just weeks before their big day. Some had paid upfront in cash – lured into thinking they were getting a ‘bargain’ – leaving them hundreds of pounds out of pocket with no chance of recouping the money. This is nightmare scenario, and one that should never have happened. Anna Cirignaco, managing director of Eleganza Sposa, recounts her contact with just one of the casualties of the unexpected closure. “I was talking with a mother of the bride who not only paid upfront in full for her daughter’s gown and veil, but alterations as well. She did this to secure a fantastic discount. I felt so sorry for her. I then realised that people like myself are duty bound to advise unsuspecting brides to be aware; the profit margins in bridal are not set at a rate where discounts can be sustained. It’s either a false ticket price or desperation tactics by the shop.” So, what should you expect at a bridal retailer when you’re buying quite possibly the most expensive dress you’ll ever wear?
The gown’s chosen. You’re poised, purse in hand, to part with a hefty chunk of the wedding budget. At this point, it’s standard practice for the boutique to ask for about half of the cost of the dress, as Carol Hutton, owner of Doune boutique Charlotte Grace (01786 842424), explains, “I ask for around a 40% to 50% deposit at the time of order. This secures the dress, so I can – in turn – place the order with the designer.”
It’s a similar state of play at Glasgow shop Sarah Louise Bridal. “We ask that the bride pay half of the cost of the dress at the time of order, then the final balance six months later when the dress comes in,” affirms assistant manager Annmarie Muir. No boutique should ask you to pay any more than around 50% at time of order. This is industry standard.
There is, however, one notable exception to this rule: if you are buying an off-the-peg dress in a sample or stock clearance sale. In this instance, the retailer doesn’t have to place a ‘special order’ with a manufacturer. You are paying for a dress that’s there in front of you, often with a generous mark down to reflect the blemishes a shop-worn item may have. It’s a ‘buy it now or miss out’ situation with sample gowns, so don’t be surprised if you’re asked to pay the full amount in this case.
The vast majority of stores will accept payment of deposit and final balance by either cash or card. Payment method should be completely your prerogative. “Most boutiques will accept debit and credit cards, leaving it entirely up to the bride how she wishes to pay,” says Annmarie Muir, who underlines that there is absolutely no need to pay in cash for anything (unless you want to). “A reputable shop would never offer to discount a dress for cash-only payment.”
“That said, we know brides like to negotiate a good deal, so if they ask us if we can offer a discount for cash, then a small percentage off can be discussed,” she continues. “But never, ever pay the full balance of a dress upfront in cash.”
BE WARY OF DISCOUNTS
Sample sales aside, special events such as designer days, new label launches or wedding shows are generally the only times bridal boutiques offer money off their gowns. Annmarie Muir explains that it’s ultimately the retailer who picks up the tab for any discount it offers – “it has to pay the full cost amount of the dress to the designer/manufacturer irrespective of any money off given in store.” Alarm bells should start ringing if you’re offered a hefty discount on a gown without asking for it, especially if the retailer insists you pay upfront in cash for it there and then.
Unless it’s a shop sample, committing to the dress of your dreams is rarely a ‘buy it now before it goes’ situation. Don’t let yourself be pressurised into parting with your money on the sole basis that you’re getting a ‘bargain’. If you have any doubts, be polite, walk away and sleep on it. The boutique will still be able to place an order with the designer the following day or week. This considered buying process is positively encouraged at Charlotte Grace as Carol Hutton reveals: “It sounds old-fashioned, but as I don’t have a credit card machine (our boutique prefers payment by cheque), I feel that the bride is less likely to make any spur-of-the-moment decisions on the dress.”
THE WAITING GAME
After you’ve paid your deposit, the boutique will then order the dress with the designer or manufacturer. It can take anywhere from four to six months upwards for a dress to be made and dispatched to a boutique. Don’t expect to receive weekly updates from the boutique during this time, but if you have any queries on your dress’s progress, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Most boutiques will only be too delighted to let you know what stage they’re at.
“Our dresses usually take around 16 weeks to make, and although we wouldn’t normally get in touch with the bride after ordering until about six months before the wedding to arrange to take measurements, we often find that our brides make a subsequent appointment to come in and look at accessories and chat over plans,” says Carol Hutton.
“We send the bride a letter once her dress is in the shop, asking her to come in within 14 days to try the dress on and pay the remainder of the amount,” Annmarie Muir discloses. “In the very rare event that the bride has changed her mind about the dress when she tries it on six months down the line, we’ll work with her as best as we can to come up with a solution. That said, it’s in our contract that all orders are final. We can’t be held responsible for a cancelled wedding, for example.”
BUYING IS A CONTRACT
When you pay a deposit on a gown, you’re entering into a contract with the retailer. They can’t be expected to refund or not pursue for payment of final balance on gowns just because the you get a ‘better deal’ elsewhere or cancel your wedding. “All our dresses are made bespoke, so once the dress is ordered – it’s ordered,” states Carol Hutton. Buying a wedding dress isn’t the same as picking up a dress on the high street which can be refunded. It’s an item made to a personalised specification and it can’t be ‘taken back’ on a whim or if something goes wrong in the run-up to your wedding. Equally, it is the retailer’s job to fulfil their side of the contract. In most cases, it’s a happily every after scenario for both bride and boutique, but this isn’t always the case.
Don’t wear rose-tinted spectacles when you’re planning your wedding. Abide by the adage: ‘hope for the best, but plan for the worst’. If the worst was to happen and your boutique ceased trading, for example, it’s worth checking in the first instance if it’s a member of the Retail Bridalwear Association. This is a UK-wide organisation of long-established, independent wedding dress shops (with six Scottish members) that offers a ‘buy-with-confidence Bride’s Protection Scheme’. Its website explains: “In the unlikely of an RBA shop closing involuntarily before you can collect your dress, it will endeavour to locate a replacement gown or refund your deposit, subject to the terms and conditions of the scheme.”
If you haven’t purchased from an RBA member boutique, then there are other avenues open to you. Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, paying for anything more than £100 and up to £30,000 with a credit card means you can claim your money back from your credit card provider if there is a problem with goods or services that constitutes a breach of contract. This only applies to Visa, Mastercard or AMEX transactions – not debit cards, cash spending, using cheques or charge cards. “It’s a legal protection put in place so that you’re never in the position of paying debt for something you didn’t receive or wasn’t as it should’ve been,” says Martin Lewis from moneysavingexpert.com. No matter what you’re spending on, consider putting anything over £100 in value on your credit card. Even if you pay the balance off straight away, you’ll still be covered if the worst happens.
The protection offered by credit card companies isn’t going to help you though if you’re forced to confront the grim reality of cancelling your wedding. In this case, the only back-up can come from a wedding insurance policy. “It’s there if you need it, a safeguard so you don’t lose out financially should the worst happen,” explains a spokesperson from niche insurance specialist E&L Insurance (eandl.co.uk). “We provide wedding cancellation cover for weddings costing £3000 right up to £50,000, with premiums starting from around £20. Depending on the policy you opt for, you’ll potentially be covered for a host of worst-case scenarios, including your supplier going into liquidation, losing your job, cancellation due to illness or bereavement. We think it makes sense to shell out a few pounds more to protect yourself.”
Do your research. If a supplier is offering products and/or services markedly cheaper than comparable competitors, ask why. Pay by credit card whenever you can, take out some insurance and you can sleep easy in the run-up to your wedding.