The Consumer Council today (Feb 13) named a beauty salon for its repeated engagement in unscrupulous sales tactics, involving misrepresentation and high pressure sales.
The Council has resolved to bring censure against Q & A+ Health Spa, with shops in Mongkok, Yuen Long, Hung Hom and Tsing Yi, after a total of 61 complaints involving HK$ 8.5 million were lodged by consumers to the Council in 2010 and 2011, out of which about half of the cases (29) were related to sales practices.
According to the complainants, they were subject to extortive high pressure sales tactics at the salon forcing to purchase new treatment packages or to upgrade existing ones, mostly at the time when they were undergoing beauty treatment. They were asked to hand over their credit cards under various excuses and some of them have signed on blank credit card payment slips or contracts without given a chance to verify the transaction amounts.
The salon was also alleged for misrepresentation. Complainants were misled into signing up services with false promises like easier booking, additional rebates or discounts, or even attractive prizes in a slimming contest that in fact was never held.
Certain advertisements posted by the salon were found to be misleading and in no way close to the corresponding facts.
More details of individual cases were highlighted in Annexure.
Despite the Council's efforts in mediation, the salon was reluctant to offer settlement to complainants. Their unscrupulous sales tactics remain. To avoid more consumers falling into the sales traps, the Council decided to take action.
The Council thus issued this reprimand to alert the public. It also serves as a strong message to the operators of the relevant industry that unfair and dishonest sales tactics would not be tolerated.
The Consumer Council had received a total of 886 complaints about beauty services in 2011, a 12% increase over 2010, of which 26% were related to sales practices.
To guard against unscrupulous sales tactics, consumers are advised of the followings:
- Do not hesitate to say "NO" to the sales staff who put high pressure on you through repetitive and aggressive selling. Give yourself some time to cool down and think over whether you really need the service.
- Be vigilant to the sales pitches of swapping between treatment courses which in fact mostly incur new purchases.
- Never hand over your credit card or sign on anything while you are having your beauty session or with your facial mask on. Always verify the transaction amount before giving your signature or the PIN (personal identification number).
- Bargain deals, trial offers, free gifts and attractive prizes are generally marketing gimmicks that consumers should treat with great caution. These can be followed by sales pitches that pressure consumers into joining costly and long-term packages.
- Check from consumer reports or professionals about some advertisement claims before making purchase decision.
- Avoid large amount of prepayment through joining multiple plans or long-term packages at one time. Take time to consider one's financial viability and the risk of the shop closing down.
- Consumers can ask to leave the premises when they are trapped inside the room and are subject to hard pressure sales tactics. Call the police when necessary.
Addresses of the Q & A+ Health Spa shops:
Consumer A had purchased a 1- year slimming plan for a monthly fee of HK$1,980 at the beauty centre. Since then, she was talked into taking more plans with the promise that the old plans would be replaced by the new ones whenever she visited the centre for beauty treatment. Once she was persuaded to buy a "spokesperson programme"（代言人）for HK$71,280, which the staff claimed would make her qualify to join a slimming contest where the winner would receive a prize of HK$500,000, and even if she failed to win, she would still be awarded HK$100,000 plus rebates, an amount that would be able to cover what she had already paid for.
Since then, she was hard pressed during every beauty session to get more treatments for different parts of the face and body in order not to lose any chance of becoming a slimming spokesperson. Such situation continued until the arrival of the first statement. A was shocked to find that the bill added up to almost HK$120,000, a sum including the amount of the plans that the staff claimed would be voided, the transactions that would be kept on hold until six months later, as well as value for products which were meant to be free gifts.
Feeling cheated, A asked the centre to cancel the transactions, as she could hardly afford to pay the bills and had to face penalty fees for exceeding credit card spending limit. The centre refused her request but agreed to help her waive the penalty charges by transferring the debt to another credit card. To complete the procedure, the consumer was told to sign on several blank credit card slips and sales contracts. However, A was later informed by the staff that the transfer was not successful. It did not take too long for A to discover that her credit card had been swiped for a sum of HK$180,000 when she received the card statement.
A contacted the centre again to cancel the transactions, she was promised by the centre that all previous transactions would be voided if she agreed to pay an additional HK$35,760. But after the payment, the centre said the transaction would be for the purpose of qualifying A to join the slimming contest in the coming 3 years.
Eventually, the consumer faced HK$540,000 in debt on 9 credit cards, of which some transactions were dubious. Though A had asked the beauty centre to cancel the transactions, the centre refused.
A later took her case to the Consumer Council. During the mediation, the Consumer Council got confirmation by the beauty centre that no slimming contest had ever been held.
Consumer B was attracted by an advertisement in a magazine on "stem cell cloning technology" （幹細胞血清複製技術）, which claimed to rejuvenate the skin with the consumer's own stem cells at the trial price of HK$299. When B called the centre for details, she was told that the treatment would be administered by a doctor, who would re-inject the consumer's own serotonin into the skin. The staff told the consumer to make early payment as it was a limited offer, and that the treatment would have to be completed within 3 months.
After making the payment, B made several calls to the centre to enquire what preparation was required before the treatment, but each time she was told by the staff that they were either "not sure", "telephone out of order", or "very busy now" before hanging up. Eventually the consumer got a call from a "person responsible", who informed her that no special attention was required before the treatment, as it would only be a facial massage with the application of serum. When B tried to dispute the advertisement claims, the staff quickly hanged up.
Dissatisfied with the false advertisement claims as well as the service attitude of the centre, the consumer took her case to the Council in the hope that the Council would stop the centre from cheating other consumers.
Consumer C wanted to have a try at the beauty centre for facial treatment after receiving a promotional leaflet on a trial session for newcomers at HK$88. During the treatment, she was persuaded to take a package for HK$2,980, which the staff claimed was a bargaining offer with each treatment costing only around HK$100. While C was lying with a facial mask, the staff told C to pass her credit card for payment. She was later told that the transaction was unsuccessful and thus required to hand in other credit card or payment card, as well as keyed in the password for electronic payment. When C returned home in the evening, she was shocked to find that the shop had deducted a total of HK$24,500 by way of cash, credit card and electronic payment from her account. The consumer took her case to the Consumer Council.
The press conference was chaired by Mr. William CHAN, Chairman of Trade Practices Committee.