Hard-sell tactics earn healthcare touts harsh criticism, suspension

Supplement promoters from Herbalife seen pushing products to an elderly couple (left) at the lobby of the National Heart Centre Singapore.
PHOTO: Hard-sell tactics earn healthcare touts harsh criticism, suspension

SINGAPORE - The five promoters who have been brazenly touting health supplements outside the National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS) have been suspended.

The move follows a report by The New Paper on April 29 about their activities. The five promoters were hawking Herbalife products.

Smartly dressed and ready with a smile, they approached the heart patients with lots of concern. Then, they pushed their products.

These promoters would target patients and their family members who were at the centre waiting for their appointment.

TNP learnt that some of the unsuspecting patients had no clue that the promoters were not working for the hospital.

Both NHCS and Herbalife said promoters are not allowed to hawk their products this way.

They added that they had no clue this was happening until TNP approached them.

Their hard-sell tactics on patients and hospital visitors drew harsh criticism from the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).

Case's executive director Seah Seng Choon said the distributors "targeted people in misery". He said: "People are having medical problems and when you come selling this as an alternative, it's very dangerous.

"The person may just believe you and disregard the doctor's medication."

Dr Dora Hoan, the chairman of the Direct Selling Association of Singapore (DSAS), told TNP that the promoters have been suspended pending further investigation.

No complaints

DSAS, which was founded in 1976, represents legitimate direct selling companies in Singapore.

Herbalife, a multi-level marketing company that sells nutrition, weight management and skin-care products, has been one of its 24 members for seven years.

The five promoters, who are junior staff members in Herbalife, would approach potential customers in the waiting area of the NHCS.

Dr Hoan said it was the first time any member of the DSAS has engaged in such open touting. She said: "It's like a spot on a clean piece of paper. This incident is a combination of hard-selling tactics and the wrong location."

Case has not received any complaints about Herbalife from the public, except for feedback last July from a consumer who was persuaded to sign on a package with the brand following a survey.

The DSAS has met with a Herbalife representative, and is "closely monitoring the situation".

Other than suspending the promoters, Herbalife has reminded its distributors to abide by the rules. It has also written to NHCS to inform them of a 30-day unconditional refund guarantee for those who bought its products there.

DSAS is waiting for Herbalife to complete its internal investigations before taking appropriate action. This may include at least a warning letter.

The issue of touting at the hospital has been brought up to Herbalife's regional headquarters in Australia, DSAS' ethics committee confirmed.

A NHCS spokesman said it has also taken steps to prevent the unauthorised sale and promotion of products and services outside the centre.

He said: "We have met with Herbalife who has given the assurance that they will conduct an internal investigation and act against errant distributors.

"Staff, especially the front-liners, have also been briefed to be vigilant of such unauthorised activities and to inform the security if they come across any."

Signs to inform visitors and patients of the unauthorised sale and promotion have also been put up, the spokesman said. The signs encourage anyone approached to alert staff.

Case encourages consumers to call 6100-0315 if they notice similar ongoing incidents.

fjieying@sph.com.sg

This article was published on May 10 in The New Paper.Get The New Paper for more stories.