Wig Shopping: Online vs. Physical Stores

For people who do not have a wig salon in their vicinity, buying online is their only option. For others, choosing whether to shop online or in a local store generally comes down to cost vs. risk: Are the savings substantial enough to undertake the significant risks of buying online? Below is a quick list of pros and cons to each option, along with some common pitfalls to avoid with both alternatives.

Benefits to a brick and mortar store:
• Trying on and viewing the merchandise before you buy
• Personal connection with a knowledgeable retailer who is easy to contact if problems or questions arise
• Personalized guidance for people new to wearing wigs, including tips for application, styling, wearing, and caring for them
• In most cases, more generous return and exchange policies
• Many, but not all, salons feature private dressing rooms for those who desire discretion

Drawbacks to a brick and mortar store:
• Cost is significantly higher than online merchants; as much as double the cost or more
• Pressure to buy can be intense from merchants who personalize services to their clientele
• There is often still wait time for shipping and delivery as most stores do not keep a large selection in stock

Tips for shopping in a brick and mortar store:
• If you want or need a fair amount of one-on-one attention, call ahead for an appointment. Most stores welcome drop-in shoppers, but you are guaranteed more personal service and privacy, if needed, by booking an appointment ahead of time
• Ask about the return policy. There are federal regulations regarding the resale of used wigs, and stores will handle the issue of returns differently. Be sure you understand the store’s policy before purchasing, and understand that to a wig seller, the definition of “used” can be quite strict – in many cases, a wig is considered used from the moment it is removed from the original packaging.
• If you have a budget, commit to it in advance and communicate it to the staff. For many, buying a wig is an emotional issue, and as such a budget can go right out the window when actually making the purchase. That said, be realistic with yourself about how much you can afford to spend and take into consideration that you will be tempted to go over that amount. Know your bottom line, but also know your real bottom line. You need to be happy with what you purchase.

Benefits to buying online:
• Cost can be significantly less than shopping in brick and mortar stores
• Anonymity for those who are still uncomfortable going into a store
• Access for those who are not in proximity of a physical location
• Ability to shop for cheapest prices or take advantage of online sales
• Decision making can be made on your own time and without pressure from salespeople

Drawbacks to buying online:
• Cannot see or try on the merchandise before you buy
• Return policies are strict and must be investigated carefully before purchasing:

* if a wig needs to be returned, the buyer pays for shipping and in many cases pays a re-stocking fee (often 20% the cost of the wig or more)
* many online stores will not accept returns once the wig has been removed from the original packaging – this includes taking it out of the package, removing any tags or netting, and trying it on
* the return or exchange process can be lengthy and can take up to four weeks to complete, leaving you without a wig for more than a month

• Shady behavior such as selling poor quality wigs while listing them as in mint condition and rude, unhelpful customer service are in abundance

Tips for Shopping Online:
• Check the returns policies carefully before purchasing and, if possible, call the store to confirm this information
• Check out the site’s listing at the Better Business Bureau – many poorly rated wig sites are listed there for your benefit
• Call the store if it is your first time ordering to check out their level of customer service – are they helpful in answering questions about cap size, colors, returns and exchanges? If not, you might want to proceed with caution with that site.
• Check YouTube for reviews. Many wig-wearers review wigs on video so people can see what a wig looks like on a real head in a real situation. Manufacturer’s pictures can be very misleading.
• The cheapest price may not be the best. Again, check out the site’s return policies and investigate their customer service representatives.
• If you find a site you like, sign up for their email list. Many sites have regular storewide specials and sales, and you can be notified of them this way.

A Word About “White Labeling”
There’s a fairly common practice among retail manufacturers – and not just of wigs, by the way – wherein a company (the manufacturer) gives another company (the distributor) the rights to sell some of their products and label them as their own. It’s a practice that initially started with grocery store chains, which would commission food manufacturers to produce food for them that would then be given the grocery store’s name instead. The distributor goal was to build customer loyalty by making the buyer believe they could only get that food item at that store, while the manufacturers benefitted by accessing a market that might have otherwise not bought the more expensive, brand-label products.

When grocery stores engaged in this practice, however, they usually offered the white labeled product at a cheaper cost than the original manufacturer, making their products more attractive to the consumer. In relation to wigs, this is not always the case. There are physical stores and online retailers who white label name brand manufacturers’ wigs as their own, but at the same price as a physical store which identifies the products more openly. These stores, knowing their clientele can easily find the name brand wigs they sell at an online site for significantly less, enter into an agreement with the manufacturer wherein they are allowed to remove the designer label and call the wigs their own. This is not illegal, but it does put the customer at a disadvantage as they not only end up paying two times the price because he or she does not realize they are buying a wig that can be found online for less, they also do not know they can buy replacement wigs online when the original hairpiece wears out. This is how such stores build customer loyalty – by leading the customer to believe that their store is the only resource available to them for the wigs they love.

It is important to point out that not many wig stores do this, but it does happen. Most stores, even the old-school brick and mortars, are upfront and honest about the manufacturers they distribute. They rely on good customer service and strong relationships with their clients to build customer loyalty, not omission of valuable information. A few simple questions can help you determine with which sort of store you are dealing.

How do you know who sells white label products? Try asking the salespeople or store owner what manufacturers they carry. If they dance around the question and essentially refuse to tell you, it’s possible they’re selling a name brand wig line and don’t want you to know. If they tell you they make their own wigs, ask for more information. Where are the wigs made, in the store or at some other location and shipped to them? Where is that location? How are the wigs constructed, and what makes their wigs better than other, more popular name brand lines? There are small companies that actually construct their own wigs, but they will be more than willing to answer those questions. In fact, they’ll be eager to tell you. Their hand-made construction is the only thing distinguishing them from the popular name brands that wig-wearers know. If they don’t want to talk, they’re either not manufacturing the wigs themselves, or they’re doing such a shoddy job of it that they’re desperate to change the subject.

Most online and physical locations sell the same, or similar, lines of manufacturers, so familiarize yourself with who they are: Rene of Paris (including the Noriko and Amore line), Raquel Welch, Gabor, Jon Renau, Henry Margu, Estetica, and Revlon are just a few. If you don’t hear at least one or two of those company names, ask questions about who they carry, see how they respond, and judge accordingly.

There are also independent sellers through sites like Etsy and eBay who buy wigs and then “customize” them to charge a higher price. A little bit of research into these individuals usually yields useful information. And it is still possible that you buy a wig you love at a high price only to realize later you bought a Noriko with a ripped out tag from a physical store when you could have gotten it cheaper online. But the bottom line is: do you like the wig you bought? Were you provided good services at the time that made your wig wearing experience more pleasant for you? If so, then don’t obsess over the excess cash. Just know that when your hair wears out you can get it for cheaper elsewhere. And you may find you prefer the level of service at a certain store even if it’s a white-label brand. That’s fine too. Service is a part of cost, after all, and when it comes to your hair, that service may make the difference between hair you will wear and hair that gets stuffed into a closet and never used.

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