A senior who spent over $12,000 on skincare products and services at an Edmonton shopping mall says she was the victim of high-pressure sales tactics.
Shawne Smith spent about $800 on products following her first interaction with employees at the Soap & Co. kiosk in Kingsway Garden Mall and says she was pressured into spending $11,000 on a treatment package when she returned for a free facial treatment offered with her original purchase.
“I knew better,” said Smith, 72. “They just caught me at a very vulnerable time.”
The owner of Soap & Co denies his employees used aggressive sales tactics. After CBC contacted the business, Tomer Elimelech got in touch and said he is willing to give Smith a refund.
In an email Monday, he maintained that his company’s dealings with Smith were fair.
‘I can’t afford this’
On Sept. 19, Smith was walking through the mall when staff beckoned her over to come try out some products.
“They told me they could make me look 15 years younger with this product,” she said.
She said the staff became pushy about selling her products, and persisted even when she told them the items were too expensive.
“When you tell them you can’t afford this product, they lead you in a merry chase in your mind, thinking that you’re going to get a better deal. And you’re not. You’re not at all.”
Smith eventually agreed to buy an assortment of products for about $800. The staff also gave her card with an offer for four free facials. A few days later, she says one of the employees phoned her to set up an appointment for one of the free treatments.
She went for the facial on Sept. 29, but once it was underway, the high-pressure sales tactics returned.
She said the man giving her the treatment wanted her to pay $11,000 for extra services.
“I told him again and again ‘I can’t afford this’ … he didn’t even give me a chance to respond or to think because he was working so fast psychologically with me. I was just at the point where I wanted out of there,” she said.
Smith handed over her Visa, but the large charge was declined. Receipts provided to CBC show that in the end, Soap & Co. took two payments on the Visa, two payments on Smith’s debit card, as well as $735 in cash that she says the employees sent her to a nearby bank to withdraw.
With GST, the total came to $11,550. The treatments listed on the receipt include a hyaluronic acid treatment, a “premium non-surgical facelift,” as well as note that Smith received a free facial and a “special discount promo.”
As she was leaving, she said an employee told her to return for 12 more free facials. She said never received any documentation of that offer.
When Smith got home from the appointment, she was disgusted with herself.
“I didn’t want to tell anybody what I had done because I was so upset with myself. And then I thought, this isn’t right; these people should not be getting away with this.”
In an email, Elimelech said he investigated Smith’s complaint and that the $11,000 was a package deal on two years’ worth of acid treatments and 12 non-surgical facelifts, as well as other services for free.
He said that the receipt shows the $11,000 charge for hyaluronic acid treatment because of the way his employee punched it in to create a package deal.
Smith and Elimelech have diverging accounts of what happened when she attempted to return the products for a refund.
Smith ultimately contacted CBC, and filed a report with Edmonton Police Service. A police spokesperson confirmed the matter was reported as an alleged fraud and that it is being investigated.
Elimelech said he only became aware of the situation on Oct. 17 after CBC contacted the business because he had been overseas on a family vacation. He said he has an appointment with Smith on Tuesday to return her money.
Service Alberta, the government department responsible for consumer protection, said its investigations branch is aware of some concerns in relation to Soap & Co.
“They’ve previously investigated some of its transactions with consumers in 2014 and 2015, but no enforcement actions resulted from previous complaints or proactive observations” said Tricia Velthuizen, press secretary to the minister of Service Alberta.
Velthuizen said consumers who believe they’ve been treated unfairly can file online complaints at Alberta.ca, or by calling 1-877-427-4088.
Smith’s experience is “unfortunate,” said Rene Fougere, the front-desk manager at Edmonton’s EIE MediSpa & Laser Centre.
“A client should expect to come in and feel relaxed and greeted and welcomed,” Fougere said.
She said EIE does offer packages for certain types of treatments, but purchasing a bundle of treatments would only happen after a client comes in for a free consultation with an esthetician.
“An esthetician is going to be able to analyze the skin and give you product recommendations that are going to work best for you, also kind of go over everything cost-wise as well,” she said.