Aside from the obvious checking of feedback when available, here are some tips to buying from cosplay sellers online:
Buy from sellers that use mannequins to show products, not cosplayers. There are sellers all over the web stealing photos from cosplay sites and using them for product shots. Don’t assume the person wearing that wig or costume is modeling for a store. Odds are, they are unknowingly being used to sell goods that aren’t nice enough looking for a seller to want to show you the real thing you’d be buying. Some sellers will have galleries where you can view photos submitted by happy buyers, but most reputable sellers do not use cosplayers for their actual product listings. Avoiding sellers that use cosplay photos instead of products on mannequins in product listings is a big must. You want to see exactly what you are getting.
Look for photo consistency. Are all the photos shot on the same mannequin? Is the lighting the same in all the photos across their entire stock line? If you search for that same wig or costume, do other sellers have the SAME product shots? If you can easily find other sellers using the same pictures, it’s a bad sign. It probably means those sellers are all using photos of someone else’s products. Often, sellers use photos from places like Cospatio because the costumes look spot on. Those costumes cost hundreds of dollars, have custom made trims and details, and have much higher quality control than most other ready made cosplay. They aren’t what you’ll get for $60 on ebay, so be aware of this practice.
Don’t trust watermarks. Just because a picture has a seller’s store name on it, doesn’t mean it is a legitimate product shot. Sellers will watermark over photos they have stolen, and do it all the time- sometimes right over other seller’s watermarks who’ve stolen the photo too! Often they will remove other watermarks by cropping out a site’s credit or a photographer’s mark or blur it. If it looks like they’ve blurred out or cropped out someone else’s watermark, it’s a bad sign. No seller needs to do that on a photo they’ve shot of their own product. It’s a big red flag.
Be skeptical. Do research. Be logical about ‘good deals’. Some deals are too good. If it’s a complicated costume or a styled wig, it won’t be sold for cheap. If one seller is selling something for much, much less than other sellers, be wary. Be rational and don’t just buy based on the cheapest price. Quality is directly related to price, no matter where you buy it from. That said, you can still find some reasonably good deals and not be scammed if you scrutinize and use caution.
On a personal note, I’ve had a number of sellers use my photos without permission to sell wigs and costumes. If you ever see a seller using my photos, do not trust that seller. I never give anyone the okay to use my cosplay to sell costumes or wigs.