Here's how Singaporeans can protect themselves from unethical retailers

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From promotional spa packages, to free trials at fitness centres and car grooming workshops, it is the innate nature for many to find the best bargains and to get more bang for their buck.

However, there are times when signing up for these free trials or promotional packages may well be a start of a nightmare, thanks to aggressive sales tactics and pushy staff.

Errant retailers, in bid to close a transaction from customers, may often get their staff to use high-handed approach to sell a package that is too expensive or does not suit their needs.

While such tactics can be intimidating, precautionary steps can be taken by customers to protect themselves from such high-handed approach and errant retailers.

#1 RECOGNISE RED FLAGS BEFORE SIGNING UP FOR ANY PACKAGE 

Many service providers will often dangle a free trial or charge a nominal fee for new customers for their services to entice them to try out their services.

While this is a common practice by many retailers in Singapore, some errant businesses will leverage this hook to hard-sell packages to customers, in a bid to recoup what they have put into the so-called free trial or discounted sessions. Such practice is very common in the beauty, fitness and car grooming businesses.

Another red flag is when retailers offer packages that is too good to be true. For instance, customers who have completed a trial may be asked to sign a low-priced package in an attempt to hook them on board.

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Once the customer signs for the package, they will be asked to make cash top ups for other optional items or be told that there are other charges that will be added on to the so-called cheap package.

This is occurrence is very common especially in the beauty industry, where customers do not usually follow through with the packages that they have signed up.

That is why before making a decision to sign up for a trial session, it makes sense to find more information and read reviews of these retailers from others and to uncover any negative reviews before heading down.

#2 BE BETTER INFORMED ABOUT THE TACTICS USED BY SOME COMPANIES

There is a wide range of tactics used by retailers to get customers to sign up for packages. One common practice is for the staff to pull away customers into another room, away from their belongings, in an attempt to pressurise them into signing up for packages.

In some cases, the staff may gang up as a team to pit against the customer. For instance, if a staff is unable to coax the customer into signing on the dotted line, they may get their other colleagues to surround the customer and pressurise him or her to purchase the package.

In extreme situation, some errant retailers may even take your identity card on the pretext of registration but refuse to return it to customers before leaving the shop, or simply to get their credit card and to charge the card without explicit consent from the customer.

However, customers have every right to walk away from any high-handed transaction if they feel uncomfortable.

In addition, the retailer is also committing an offence by detaining customers in such occurrences. In such instance, the customer should not cave into pressure and not wanting to make a scene, but instead to contact the police for assistance just because retailers have no right to prevent customers from leaving.

Towards this end, you can keep abreast of scam announcements by visiting the ScamAlert, a public-education initiative by the National Crime Prevention Council, as well as ground-up community initiatives like the Singapore Scams Discussion Facebook Group.

#3 HANDLING BUYER'S REGRET

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While some customers may simply walk away from errant retailers, there are others who would have simply caved in by the pressure and to experience buyer's regret thereafter. However, it is possible for the customer to seek redress from the Consumer Association of Singapore (CASE) when faced with such errant retailers.

In a case where the retailer has made misleading claims or charges, or has promised something they cannot deliver, customers can file a case with CASE, who can help customers negotiate for an amicable settlement with the retailer.

Usually, around 70 per cent to 80 per cent of these cases are closed with a full or close-to-full refund from errant retailers.

#4 REPORT ERRANT RETAILERS

While customers can simply walk away from errant retailers or seek assistance for any unfair transactions, you can always do one better by reporting unethical retail practices to the Consumer Association of Singapore (CASE) or reporting outright scams to the relevant authorities, such as the Singapore Police Force or Monetary Authority of Singapore (for investment and/or multi-level marketing).

This article was first published in Dollars and Sense