They are like jewelry for the feet -- sleek, sensuous designer shoes. What's not to love about them?
"It's just the way they make you feel when you put them on," said shoe lover Natalie Abugov, 26. "It's like putting on a face of makeup in the morning...and shoes always fit, and shoes always look the same, and it never changes."
One of the most popular names is Christian Louboutin. The shoes, with their signature red soles, are popping up on celebrity red carpets and TV. Jennifer Lopez even sings about "throwing on her Louboutins" in her single, "Louboutins." The pricey shoes start at around $595 and go up from there.
Online sales of designer shoes are booming. According to NDP Group, a consumer research firm, online shoe sales generated just under $1 billion in sales through September 2009. Despite the recession, sales were up 25 percent. It's no surprise that savvy fashionistas like Abugov are turning to the Internet to look for deals.
A Google search for "christian louboutin" returns 11.6 million results. Immediately, some major department store Web sites pop up, but also many "discount" Web sites that seem to offer Louboutins for a fraction of the price in stores. The discounted prices seem too good to be true.
"I went to the site, and when you look at the pictures of all of the shoes ...you have the option -- just like any other site has -- to zoom on the shoes and to see alternate pictures. And they were all the real shoes, with real pictures and "guaranteeing authenticity," said Abugov.
"20/20" selected nine of the more popular designer shoes -- as seen on celebrities -- and purchased them from eight different "discount" Web sites.
At the site, Gallardofashion.com, we couldn't resist high fashion snakeskin pumps, called "Rolando Roccia Grey." The site says the pumps are "python covered" and "made in Italy." This pair of Louboutins typically retails for $1,200. We snagged a pair for a third of that at $400. And the Web site guaranteed its authenticity.
Seems to be a great deal? Or is it?
"20/20" recruited Cameron Silver and Christos Garkinos, co-owners of the popular "Decades Two" store in Los Angeles, to compare our discount purchases to their genuine counterparts. They weren't fooled for a minute.
"You gotta be real drunk...to think these are real," Silver said, after inspecting the pair.
Compared to the real Louboutin shoe, the online copies looked like "you took a picture of a snake and just kind of molded it around the shoe," said Garkinos. "Have you ever seen a snake with no scales at all?"
"For $400, that's a complete rip-off."
"20/20" ordered another shoe, called "The Dillian Pump," for just $176 from Genuine-louboutins.com. They were far from genuine.
The shoes we received looked nothing like the picture that was on the Web site. "It's $176 worth of plastic, it's Tupperware on your foot," said Silver. He said the shoe had none of the "natural snake skin" advertised on the site.
Susan Scafidi, director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University, has watched the evolution of these fake designer shoe Web sites.