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The Straits Times
May 18, 2023
A beauty salon chain that made false claims about price savings on its services and health benefits from treatments – such as a head spa allegedly being able to prevent Alzheimer’s disease – has been issued a warning.
Salon One has also been ordered to remove such promotional materials from its premises, following persistent complaints from consumers.
Besides the unsubstantiated claims, some outlets were also found to have engaged in pressure sales tactics.
The Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) said on Thursday that the chain engaged in such unfair practices between October 2017 and August 2022.
A total of 95 complaints were made to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) against Salon One during this period.
The chain has eight outlets islandwide in heartland areas including Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Batok, Bukit Panjang, Clementi, Marine Parade, Pasir Ris and Tampines. It provides services such as hairdressing, hair treatments and facials.
CCCS said that the chain made unsubstantiated representations on its treatments, such as a herbal head spa that it claimed was able to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, brain stroke, cerebral infarction, cerebral thrombosis and cerebral haemorrhage, as well as enhance memory.
“Such representations were also made to certain consumers who were not able to reasonably ascertain if the claimed efficacy and health benefits of the treatments existed,” said CCCS, which engaged a medical expert to verify the efficacy of the claims.
Two of Salon One’s outlets in Bukit Batok and Marine Parade were also found to have made false claims on price savings, representing them as bigger than they actually were.
For example, savings on their TCM meridian eye treatment as well as spleen and stomach navel candling services were claimed to be worth $359, but in fact, were worth only $159 and $59 respectively.
The two outlets also had banners outside their premises claiming that discounted prices for certain services – such as eyebrow embroidery, and face and eyebrow threading – were available for a limited period as part of an “opening promotion” at a trial price of $39.
During investigations, CCCS found these banners had been on display at the outlets long after the opening dates in 2020 – till at least Nov 1, 2021.
“The representations led consumers to believe that discounted prices were only available for a limited period of time, which created a false sense of urgency,” said CCCS.
Some of the chain’s outlets were also found to be pressuring consumers into purchasing services and products, despite the latter declining or expressing no interest.
Case had issued an alert against aggressive pressure-selling tactics at Salon One’s Ang Mo Kio outlet in July 2019.
But checks by CCCS found that four other outlets in Bukit Batok, Pasir Ris, Marine Parade and Bukit Panjang had engaged in similar conduct.
Following intervention from CCCS, Salon One promptly took corrective action to stop its unfair practices in compliance with the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA), and agreed to not commit them any further, the competition watchdog said.
The corrective action includes removing all false or misleading claims in their marketing materials relating to price benefits, promotions and the efficacy of certain treatments in preventing medical conditions.
Salon One has also given an undertaking to CCCS that its employees will not exert undue pressure on consumers to buy services or products; and that it will include a five-day cooling-off period term in its contracts, invoices and receipts for services or products, which allows consumers to cancel their transactions, among other commitments.
CCCS said it has accepted the undertaking and issued a warning to Salon One “after considering the facts of the case and the steps taken by the Salon One entities to address CCCS’ concerns”.
It added: “CCCS will initiate further investigations if any of the Salon One entities breach the undertaking or engage in any other unfair practices... If necessary, CCCS will seek declarations and court injunctions against persistently errant suppliers.”
The competition watchdog also worked with Case to resolve complaints and help affected consumers to get compensation.
Both CCCS chief executive Sia Aik Kor and Case president Melvin Yong noted that the beauty industry has consistently had a high rate of consumer complaints.
In a Facebook post on Thursday, Mr Yong said Case received more than 1,400 complaints about the industry, where one in four complaints relate to misleading and false claims, and pressure sales tactics.
Mr Yong also called on the Government to mandate a cooling-off period for the beauty industry’s packages, in the way that it is done for purchases in certain industries such as insurance and direct sales.
“A mandatory cooling-off period will give consumers sufficient time to consider their purchase. If they do not wish to proceed with their beauty packages, they have the right to cancel and obtain a refund,” he added.
Mr Yong said beauty, spa and wellness businesses accredited by CaseTrust, a Case scheme that identifies reliable sellers, offer a five-day cooling-off period, as well as prepayment protection for unused portions of their prepaid packages.
Such businesses have also committed to ensuring a stress-free environment, where no sales are conducted during treatment.
Ms Sia said: “Businesses should provide consumers with clear and accurate information on their prices, discounts and promotions... Claims about the benefits, performance and qualities of their products and services should be accurate and substantiated.”
She added that CCCS will ramp up efforts to educate suppliers on the practices they should avoid in order to comply with fair trading laws.
“We also want to empower consumers to be able to say ‘no’ when they come across situations such as pushy sales tactics, offers that seem too good to be true, or dubious claims.”
Consumers who encounter unfair practices can approach Case for assistance via www.case.org.sg or 9795-8397.