Choose Haircut and Treatment Packages with Care Beware of Losses Arising from High Value Prepaid Services

15 April 2019
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Choose Haircut and Treatment Packages with Care Beware of Losses Arising from High Value Prepaid Services

Many consumers visit salons for routine haircare.  Apart from regular hair styling services, such as shampoo, cut, colour and perm, some salons also provide haircare treatment packages, and some offer prepaid packages at discounted prices.  The Consumer Council received 77 related complaints in the past year, revealing problems involving prepaid vouchers being unable to redeem the service purchased, and use of high-pressure sales tactics in selling costly hair colouring vouchers.  The Council reminds consumers of the risks associated with prepayment purchase.  Besides, some salons could also market voluminous haircare products in the disguise of treatment packages.  Before making a purchase, consumers are advised to assess their financial situation and genuine needs, and to understand the terms and conditions carefully.

The Council urges traders to prominently display prices of their products and services, and explain succinctly about charges, quantity, and terms of use of the products and services during a sales pitch.  Traders who provide ambiguous information or deploy aggressive sales tactics may amount to violation of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance.

Case 1: Hard Sell Hair Colouring Treatment Worth $10,000 to an Elderly Consumer

While having her hair colouring treatment at Company A, the 70-year-old complainant was persistently persuaded by a staff member to switch her existing treatment package to new products on the pretext that the existing treatment package had been out of date but the complainant refused instantly.  While the complainant was paying the bill, she was coerced by 4 staff members surrounding her to purchase a treatment package worth some $10,000 in threatening manner.  Eventually, the complainant had to pay about $7,000 shortfall after deducting the balance of her existing treatment package.  In confusion and panic, the complainant settled the payment by her credit card.

In the evening, the complainant’s son found out that his mother had spent $10,000 on “anti-aging hair treatment” and “regenerating hair treatment”, he then contacted Company A for a refund as the receipt stated that refund could be arranged within 7 days.  The customer service staff of Company A took down the son’s request but had not replied since then.  The son then accompanied the complainant to Company A to seek redress.  The staff insisted that they could not handle refund request at the shop and asked the complainant to contact their company directly.  Subsequently, the complainant’s son successfully rang up the manager of Company A and asked for a refund but the manager just hung up the phone.  In distress, the son took the case to the Council to ask for payment cancellation. In reply to the letter of inquiry from the Council, Company A stated that they had already contacted the complainant and the complainant’s son later confirmed that Company A had agreed to refund the $7,000 credit card payment.

Case 2: No Refund for Pricey Treatment Package Despite Causing Scalp Inflammation

The complainant’s hair quality was criticised by a hairdresser of Company B who advised the complainant to have regular treatments and to choose western brands of haircare products for better results.  Being convinced, the complainant spent $52,000 for 3 treatment packages for prevention of hair loss, for hair growing, and for treating grey hair.  The packages included almost a hundred of haircare products ranging from oils, hair growing tonic water to conditioning serums.  Although a hairdresser of Company B had monitored the skin condition of the complainant’s scalp in the 2 ensuing treatments, the complainant found a red spot on his scalp after the second treatment and many more were found after the third treatment as well as other symptoms like swelling and pain.

Diagnosis of dermatologist confirmed that the complainant’s scalp was inflamed and he was advised to stop the haircare treatment.  The complainant presented the medical report to Company B and requested for a refund, but the staff did not follow up after transferring his case to the office.  Later, the complainant discovered that the hair growing tonic water was sold elsewhere for only $200, while Company B charged it for nearly $1,000.  The complainant considered Company B’s sales practices to be dishonest, so he sought the Council’s assistance for a refund of the unused products.  Company B refused to refund even after the Council’s conciliation except agreed to make arrangement for product exchange. The complainant accepted the arrangement after due consideration.

Case 3: Additional Charge Required for Using Prepaid Vouchers in Different Branches

The complainant went for haircuts at Company C in Yau Tong for $50 per visit.  In last September, staff of Company C talked the complainant into purchasing prepaid vouchers at a discounted value of only $35 per visit.  One month later, the complainant found that the Yau Tong branch had closed down.  There was a notice on the door front that read, “Holders of haircut voucher can visit Lam Tin branch”.  The complainant later presented the voucher at the Lam Tin branch for haircut but was asked to pay an extra $20 for the same haircut service.  Although there was no mention of additional charge on the voucher, the staff insisted that this was the company’s policy.  The complainant contended that all branches’ addresses were listed on the vouchers, so voucher holders should be allowed to receive haircut service at any branches without having to pay additional charges.  The complainant also queried that it was not fair for him to go to a branch that was further away for a prepaid service at additional charge.  He then lodged a complaint with the Council.

The Council contacted Company C and the staff-in-charge responded firmly that prepaid voucher was not introduced in Lam Tin branch since face value of the prepaid voucher was lower than the charge of the same service in Lam Tin branch, making additional charge inevitable.  Notwithstanding that the complainant did not want to pursue the case further, he considered the sales of haircut vouchers at Yau Tong branch inappropriate as the staff should have known that it would soon close down and residents in the neighbourhood, including elderly, had the same unpleasant encounter.  The Council referred the case to the Customs and Excise Department for further investigation in accordance with the complainant’s request.    

Consumers are advised to take heed of the following when purchasing prepaid haircare services:

- Prepayment consumption involves certain risks, such as the closing down of shops or other unpredictable circumstances, which may cause  consumers unable to redeem the product/service purchased;

- Consumers should always ask for payment receipts regardless of whether they paid for the haircut service per visit, or purchased treatment packages or discounted vouchers.  Consumers should also proactively enquire about the refund policies, as well as the validity period of the service and branches that would accept the prepaid voucher at equivalent value.  They can also request those important information to be stated on the receipt or voucher;

- When using prepaid services or products, consumers should keep a clear log on number of times and quantity of the service or product used, retain such records properly, and regularly validate with the shop on the balance of the remaining service or product;

- Even if a shop offers discounted price for one-time bulk purchase, consumers should consider sensibly and have a physical trial to evaluate the effectiveness, suitability and price of the product to ensure it is value for money;  

- In case of an allergic reaction or feeling discomfort after using the product, consumer should cease using and seek professional advice immediately.

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