Beauty industry marred by rise in complaints

The beauty industry here is getting uglier.

A rising number of consumers have raised concerns about spas and beauty-related firms, despite official efforts to regulate the industry. Common complaints vary from hard-sell tactics to unsatisfactory services to even the most-feared woe of consumers - sudden closures.

Close to 2,000 such cases of negative feedback have been lodged with the consumer watchdog in the past two years, and industry experts say the figure just scratches the surface.

Many victims do not go to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), said Spa and Wellness Association of Singapore honorary secretary Edward Wong.

Still, the complaints have been rising. More people approached Case for help in resolving disagreements with beauty companies in the first nine months of this year, compared with the same period last year.

From January to September this year, 227 complaints were lodged, compared with 199 over the same period last year. These were cases where Case stepped in to help the consumers.

Part of the problem with the sector stems from the "poorly managed and confusing" registration system for therapists, said Mr Wong.

Spas have to register their therapists to get a massage establishment licence from the police.

And keeping to the licensing rules can be expensive, especially for those wanting to hire foreign therapists. Legitimate businesses may incur direct costs of more than $10,000 to certify their workers, obtain insurance and meet other requirements.

However, enforcement is lax, said Mr Wong. "Those who ignore the licensing requirements are seldom caught or punished. If they are caught, the most severe penalty is a $1,000 fine."

Adding to business woes are the foreign worker quota and the difficulty in hiring local workers, he added.

Sudden spa closures continue to plague the industry. For example, Verita Advanced Wellness in Tanglin Road closed abruptly in July. Its former operations manager, Mr Khidzer Chong, told The Straits Times that this was due to a disagreement with its landlord over leasing terms.

The business owes 80 customers about $60,000 in refunds for packages they had prepaid. Another 64 customers managed to transfer their unused sessions to another spa.

Mr Chong, who spoke on behalf of shareholders, said the company will repay customers and salary owed to staff by end-December.

Some consumers have given up. One of Verita's clients, Ms Liew Mee Lain, 43, who bought a $2,000 massage package in June, said she has lost faith in the industry.

"I'm not going to sign up for any more spa packages," she said, adding that she has not been contacted by the company.

This article was first published on October 25, 2014.
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