Beauty industry received most consumer complaints in 2018, transport grouses up tenfold

The sudden closure of the Traditional Javanese Massage Hut chain saw consumers losing nearly $200,000 in prepaid unutilised sessions. PHOTO: LIANHE WANBAO

SINGAPORE - The beauty industry was the biggest source of consumer complaints last year, knocking the car industry off the top spot for the first time since 2012.

Grouses about the transport industry went up tenfold due to the closure of bike-sharing firm oBike, while complaints relating to e-commerce were also on the rise, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) said in a statement on Friday (March 1).

Case received a total of 16,090 complaints last year, and about seven in 10 of those negotiated or mediated by the consumer watchdog were resolved, with more than $2.73 million in cash and in kind recovered.

There were 1,829 complaints lodged against the beauty industry, a 31 per cent increase from 2017. Nearly half of these were related to the loss of prepayments, due to abrupt business closures, and aggressive sales tactics, Case said.

The sudden closure of the Traditional Javanese Massage Hut chain, for example, saw consumers losing nearly $200,000 in prepaid unutilised sessions.

However, consumers who had prepaid for massage packages at its River Valley outlet, which was accredited under the CaseTrust Spa and Wellness scheme, received a payout from the prepayment insurance for their unused sessions.

Aggressive sales tactics remained an industry problem, Case said. In one instance, a sales staff promoted a beauty treatment to a customer at $28, only to raise the price to $150 during the treatment.

The customer was made to sign an invoice while in a state of partial undress, and she only later realised it was for a package costing $2,800. She paid this after the sales staff followed her out of the store, but received a refund after Case stepped in.

Case advised consumers to refrain from prepaying for large packages and to walk away from transactions where undue pressure is exerted.

The car industry slid into second place with 1,802 complaints last year, down from 2,335 in 2017. Defective goods continued to account for nearly half of the complaints, and four in 10 of these involved pre-owned cars.

The transportation industry saw a spike in complaints, from 165 in 2017 to 1,670 last year. Most of these were lodged against oBike, which ceased operations in Singapore in June last year, with unrefunded user deposits adding up to millions of dollars.

With the rise of e-commerce, Case has also seen a 60 per cent increase in the number of complaints it handled last year involving online purchases.

Pre-ticked boxes that require consumers to opt out rather than opt in, such as the auto-inclusion of add-ons like travel insurance when booking their air tickets, were among the issues Case highlighted.

The watchdog said it will continue to work with industry stakeholders and government agencies to increase consumer awareness and enhance the consumer protection regime in Singapore.

As the issue of prepayment cuts across many industries, consumers should protect themselves by using payment methods that offer prepayment protection where possible, Case said.

Those who pay by credit card, for example, may apply to their card-issuing bank within a specified period to recover their prepayments for undelivered goods or services.

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