Beware beauty and fitness centre sales tactics, Hong Kong consumer watchdog warns

Consumer Council warns of a rise in salons and fitness centres that flatter customers into spending thousands on expensive treatments

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 June, 2015, 5:12pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 June, 2015, 2:32am

Complaints about contests and lucky draws that disguised unfair sales practices were among more than 700 grievances the consumer watchdog received about beauty and fitness centres in the first five months of the year.

The Consumer Council said yesterday complaints against beauty centres rose 11 per cent to 511 in the first five months compared with the same period last year. However, complaints against health clubs were down nearly 3 per cent to 202, although the figure for last year was up 10 per cent on 2013.

In one case, a woman who initially spent HK$98 for a trial moisturising treatment ended up paying HK$70,000 for a full course.

The complainant said she was persuaded by staff to join a "Pretty Lady Contest" and told she stood a good chance of winning since she had fairly dry skin and that the cash prize would offset the costs incurred.

However, after signing up she realised the plan not only covered the "Pretty Lady Treatment" priced at HK$21,600, but another treatment costing HK$50,400, about which she was not told.

She accused the parlour of misleading her and demanded a refund. But it refused, saying the terms and conditions were clearly explained to her.

Gilly Wong Fung-han, chief executive of the council, said men were also victims. One was asked to smile while posing for a photo after paying for treatment. Such a picture may be used by the centre "as a defence that it did not threaten him to sign the contract", Wong said.

Another case involved a student who won a scratch card contest run by a promoter for a fitness centre. When he went to the centre to collect his prize he was asked to undergo a body check, and was then talked into buying a three-year membership for HK$13,688.

The watchdog said it could be a breach of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance if a competition or lucky draw was used to cover up a business's real intent.

Meanwhile, the council also warned consumers to be aware of the risks involved in extending eyelashes as not all beauty salons listed the major ingredient in the glue involved in the procedure, cyanoacrylate, on their websites.

It said the adhesive may have included rubber and latex, which could set off allergies and cause eye and skin irritation, and that fake lashes could in the long run affect the ability of natural eyelashes to grow again.

"We are not saying you should not undergo such procedures, but we want to let you know there could be risks and a price you need to pay in making yourself beautiful," said council spokesman Michael Hui King-man.