Complaints against hair salons have fallen significantly, but some customers are still getting burnt.
In the first six months of this year, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) received 24 complaints, fewer than a quarter of the 115 complaints filed in the whole of last year. The drop in numbers "could be due to Case's efforts to contact each business and request them to stop their unfair practices", said its executive director, Mr Seah Seng Choon.
Under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, Case can ask errant businesses to sign a Voluntary Compliance Agreement to stop their unfair practices. If the business refuses to sign, Case can file a court order against it. To date, 18 firms have signed the agreement.
Despite the efforts, some businesses continue to flout the rules.
Most of the complaints to Case about hair salons have been about questionable sales tactics, misrepresentation and unsatisfactory services. A salon chain in particular, Ecoin.sg, also known as New Station Beauty & Hair, received 36 complaints from January 2013 to the end of last month. Of these, five were lodged this year.
Madam Anna Tay, 50, filed a complaint after she was charged around $4,700 for what she thought was an $88 dye job in April. "I was in a rush so I signed the bill without looking at it," she told The Straits Times. She realised the discrepancy only after the staff asked for another credit card to charge an additional amount.
"They told me that the amount was for a package of 20 sessions, but I didn't sign any contract," said Madam Tay, who works in sales.
She went back to the shop several times to ask for a refund but failed. After Case stepped in, she got most of her money back.
In another case reported in the Chinese-language Shin Min Daily News last week, a 24-year-old man who went to the salon chain's Ang Mo Kio outlet on July 24 for a $5 hair cut claimed he was forced to pay $470 for a hair treatment.
The hairdresser said he had dandruff and that his hair follicles were damaged, advising him to undergo treatment, said the customer, known only as Mr Xu.
He agreed to a session, which cost $188. But after it ended, he claimed the hairdresser told him repeatedly that the treatment would work only after 15 sessions, which cost a total of $2,820. He ended up paying $470, the equivalent of 21/2 sessions, and left. He said he "had no other option" because of the staff's hard-selling tactics.
When The Straits Times visited an Ecoin.sg outlet in Toa Payoh, its manager Michael Wang, 44, said the salon does not practise hard-selling. "If they like the results of the hair treatment, we will explain to them in detail the price of the package and the terms and conditions," said Mr Wang.
Asked if the salon has received any complaints, he said: "We have customers who buy a package and later regret it after discussing with their family and friends. When they ask for a refund, we'll refund them." He added that the salon has a hotline for aggrieved customers.
When a consumer files a complaint with Case about a business, a Case officer will step in to negotiate for an amicable settlement between the parties. If that does not work, Case will push for mediation, failing which the case will be escalated to the Small Claims Tribunal.
Veteran lawyer Amolat Singh said consumers should be very sure of their purchase before signing a contract.
"Some people may have second thoughts after that. Ultimately, the court will look at what both sides have to say and the surrounding circumstances, such as how soon the customer took steps to get his money back," he said. "If you feel that you are locked in the salon and have no other option, you can call the police and sue the party for wrongful restraint."
• Additional reporting by Cheryl Faith Wee