In August last year, student Tang Yin Tong, 21, was walking around Nex shopping mall when he was approached by a sales representative from Israeli skincare company Dead Sea Premier.
She greeted him and before he knew it, she had applied some cream on his hand.
Mr Tang says he had no choice but to follow her into the store so that he could wash the cream off.
She then proceeded to tell him about other products that the brand carries and that he should invest in them.
He says: "I bought the first product because I just wanted her to stop pestering me. But she held on to the first product I bought and started introducing more."
He ended up spending about $600 on six products, ranging from an exfoliating gel to cream masks.
When he got home, he realised that he did not need all the products and his mother encouraged him to file a complaint with the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).
He did so within the week and received a full refund for his purchases within a month.
Dead Sea Premier is one of a handful of independent skincare brands that have received complaints over the last four years for their high pressure sales tactics.
There have been at least 18 complaints against such brands, including American brands Orogold and Forever Flawless.
According to Case executive director Seah Seng Choon, these complaints have "increased over the years".
Three were made in 2013 and 2014. In the first four months of this year, seven complaints have been filed.
In total, the beauty industry received 1,921 complaints relating to questionable sales tactics from 2013 to April this year.
These complaints received by Case include, but are not limited to, cases involving skincare products, facial and spa packages, and manicure and pedicure services.
The increase in complaints against independent skincare brands could be due to the proliferation of such stores at malls here in the last four years.
The beauty products they sell claim to contain special ingredients such as gold, diamond, and minerals from the Dead Sea.
Prices can range from $49.90 for an exfoliating gel from Dead Sea Premier to $450 for a diamond-infused eye cream at Forever Flawless, to $7,000 for a serum infused with gold and plant extracts from Orogold.
Another thing they have in common are sales staff who are usually positioned outside the store, armed with free samples.
The Straits Times was approached on four occasions and sales tactics were the same.
A free sample is offered and if taken, the salesman proceeds to give you his rehearsed product spiel.
He offers to let you try the products.
He not only tells you how good the products are, but also implies the ones you are using must not be working, not so subtly pointing out the flaws in your appearance.
He tells you how much you need the brand's serums and creams, and when you hesitate because of the price, you are offered special discounts of up to 30 per cent, which the salesman says are usually reserved for VIP clients.
When contacted about Mr Tang's case, a spokesman for Dead Sea Premier acknowledged the complaint and said it "returned the full payment to the customer even though there was no complaint about the products' quality".
On the high-pressure sales tactics, the spokesman said the company "processes thousands of transactions every month" and also encounters product returns and "sometimes even complaints".
He adds: "We estimate our product returns to be well below industry average. To our knowledge, the global average of product returns in retail stands at around 9 per cent - our average stands at less than 1.5 per cent."
The brand declined to disclose sales figures, but says that more than 50 per cent of purchases are made by returning customers.
Customer service associate Alisa Wu, 28, says she filed a complaint against Orogold after spending about $500 at its store at Raffles City in June last year.
After making her first purchase, the sales staff held on to her credit card and offered her more products.
"I asked for my credit card to be returned, but she kept asking me to wait while she took out more products," says Ms Wu, who ended up buying two more products as she was in a rush.
Though she blames the experience on her "bad luck", her sister convinced her to file a complaint with Case.
Because she had purchased her first item willingly and was pressured into buying only the second and third items when her credit card was held, Ms Wu says Case recommended that she ask for a refund only for the latter two items.
She got her refund within a month of filing the complaint.
The outlet has since closed and the distributor who ran it is not known.
Orogold has five outlets in Singapore, which are run by two different companies that were not involved in the Raffles City store.
Two outlets at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands are run by 3Bay and a spokesman for the company says it has not received complaints from Case in the last four years.
Apex Retail runs the Orogold outlets at Orchard Gateway, Westgate and Wisma Atria.
According to Case, the Orchard Gateway store has received three complaints while the one at Westgate received one.
When asked about the complaints, Mr Yogev Itzhak, sales director of Apex Retail, says customer satisfaction is a "top priority".
"The company has a very strict policy towards customer service and any breaching or undermining of the company policy will be dealt with accordingly and this ranges from warning letters to dismissals, depending on the severity of the incident."
When asked if sales staff are trained to pressure customers to buy more, he says: "We train our staff to give the best service - we always gather all information required from the customer in order to address the customer's needs specifically and thoroughly. This ensures that we retain our customer base and satisfaction is always met."
He says the company has served more than 300,000 customers in the last three years here.
One satisfied Orogold customer is housewife Nora Indrani, 56.
She says she has been buying the brand's 24K Deep Day Moisturizer Cream ($118) for a few years.
"I like the texture and I feel like it keeps my skin looking young."
At the end of the day, Case's Mr Seah advises shoppers who encounter pushy salespeople to "not be shy to say no and walk away from the seller".
And if they end up buying and are dissatisfied, they can always file a complaint with Case.
Dead Sea minerals, diamond, gold in skincare: do they work?
Dr Suzanne Cheng, consultant at the National Skin Centre, says there are no studies in scientific literature supporting topical application of gold to improve skin texture or fight the signs of ageing such as fine lines and sagginess.
She says the benefits from cosmetic products containing goldmaybe the result of the product's base, usually a cream or lotion, or other ingredients present.
According to Forever Flawless' website, its products contain "genuine natural diamond powder", which Dr Cheng says acts as an exfoliating agent. However, there are many other less expensive exfoliants available in the market, she says.
"In my opinion, 24K gold and diamond are mostly marketing hype and not worth the expense."
She adds that "there is evidence supporting the benefits of Dead Sea minerals".
She says that in one study of 30 patients, bathing in a solution with 5 per cent salt from the Dead Sea enhanced moisture within the outermost layer of skin and reduced skin roughness and inflammation in subjects with atopic (hyperallergic) dry skin.
"However, the active ingredient in the final productmust not degrade during the manufacturing and storage process, otherwise it may lose its efficacy. In addition, the active ingredient must be absorbed in adequate amounts into the skin so that it is able to reach its target in the skin and exert the desired effect."
At the end of the day, the best action to take for good skin is prevention, says Dr Cheng.
"One must remember that sun protection, regular moisturising and avoiding smoking remain essential steps to prevent premature skin ageing."
Know your consumer rights
1. Do not be pressured into buying the products sales promoters are touting. Do not be shy to say no and walk away.
2. The conduct of such sellers is covered under the Consumer Protection Fair Trading Act and aggrieved consumers have the right to seek redress.
Go to www.case.org.sg/ consumer_guides_cpfta.aspx to find out more about the Act.
An example of unfair practice is to do or say anything, or omit to do or say anything, if as a result, a consumer might reasonably be deceived or misled.
3. Any false claimmadeis a breach of the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice and consumers should report such false advertising to the Advertising Authority of Singapore, which is a council of the Consumers Association of Singapore, or Case.
4. Consumers who need help can call the Case hotline on 6100-0315, file their cases online at www.case.org.sg or go to the Case office at Ulu Pandan Community Building, 170 Ghim Moh Road, 05-01. It is open from 9am to 4pm, Monday to Saturday.
Advice from Case executive director Seah Seng Choon
This article was first published on June 30, 2016.
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