Watch out: Mall cosmetics kiosks may use 'guerilla sales tactics'

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by Courtney Zubowski / KHOU 11 NEWS

khou.com

Posted on February 22, 2013 at 9:31 AM

Updated Friday, Feb 22 at 4:41 PM

HOUSTON -- You’ll find them all across Houston and the country; Bella Terra cosmetic kiosks situated in the walkways of malls.

And while the cosmetic product itself has a good reputation, how it’s sold seems to be a whole other issue.

“I like to experiment with different brands,” said makeup enthusiast Judy Tincher.

Tincher loves makeup, but says she’ll never forget the day she passed a Bella Terra cosmetics stand and its aggressive salesman.

“I’ve heard of them grabbing people by the arm,” Tincher told KHOU 11 News

“He asked, ‘are you married,’ and I said, ‘oh, that’s a bit personal, but no,’” the Sam Houston State graduate explained.

And it didn’t stop there.

“I try to walk away. Before I know it, I’m purchasing an exfoliator for almost $50,” said Tincher.

Tincher says the salesman told her that she could return the item and get her money back if she didn’t like the product, but when she went back the next day to return it, she was told that wasn’t allowed.

“She said, ‘well, we don’t do refunds here,’” Tincher recalled the saleswoman telling her.

Tincher concluded that she’d be conned and contacted the Better Business Bureau.

So did the mother of 16-year-old Grace Mansfield.

“I get home and my Mom is like, ‘what did you do,’” said Mansfield. “I think my total was $350 at the kiosk.

Her mother was enraged.

“Selling her all this makeup? I mean, come one, she is 16 years old,” said Mansfield’s mother, Louise van Dessel.

Van Dessel wanted the makeup returned.

KHOU 11 News: “Did they say in the process it was non-refundable?

Mansfield: “No... Not until the receipt.”

Mansfield didn’t see the receipt until after the purchase, but says at the bottom it said ‘No Refunds.’

“They’re taking advantage of people. It’s a big hoax. A big scam,” van Dessel told KHOU 11 News.

We contacted the Houston Better Business Bureau who said consumers have been complaining for years about deceptive sales tactics being used at the Bella Terra stands.

“The term ‘guerilla sales tactics’ comes up a lot,” said Russo.

KHOU 11 News: “Could it just be chalked up to, gosh, they’re just good salespeople?”

Russo: “I think the problem is… a lot of these cases… there’s a lot of buyer’s remorse that we see with this product.”

So we decided to do our own shopping at Bella Terra using our hidden cameras and right away we got the hard pitch as product after product was pushed until we had more than $400 worth.

Bella Terra Salesperson: “Married?

KHOU Undercover: “No.”

Bella Terra Salesperson: “Ah, you look good.”

But don’t worry; apparently, we got a hefty discount.

KHOU Undercover: “You give me 50 percent off? I don’t want you to get into trouble.”

We did get a sign of trouble when we asked about their return policy and they gave us an incomplete answer.

KHOU Undercover: “What’s your return policy?”

Bella Terra Salesperson: “We have exchange.”

In fact, we saw no prominent sign about their policy until, like Grace Mansfield, we found it later on the bottom of our receipt: “No refunds. Exchanges within 14 days.”

And remember that so-called discount?

We found the prices for our items on the company’s website and it turns out we were actually overcharged at least $32.

So we decided to try and get a refund anyway and went back to the kiosk.

However, the salesperson we talked with this time, a different one, didn’t budge.

“We don’t do any refunds,” she told our producer who was wearing a hidden camera.

KHOU Undercover: “I found them cheaper online.”

2nd Bella Terra Salesperson: “We don’t have anything to do with that. The online is different. It’s a different thing.”

And she said there was another reason she couldn’t do a return.

2nd Bella Terra Salesperson: “It’s actually a law in Texas that you cannot put the makeup back on the shelf.”

KHOU Undercover: “You can’t return mak-up in Texas?”

2nd Bella Terra Salesperson: “No. Not in Texas.”

Well, not quite. Turns out, that law only applies to open and used cosmetics. Ours weren’t.

So, we headed to the headquarters of Bella Terra cosmetics to speak to the owner who said even he doesn’t like the hard sell of the kiosks.

“Do we like it? No,” said Steve Sgitcovitch. “We try to tell them to back off, to get their employees to slow down. We get complaints from the mall, too. It’s not just the customers; we get complaints from the mall.”

The problem, he says, is each kiosk is an independent separate business.

KHOU 11 News: “So they don’t work specifically for you?

Sgitcovitch: “No.”

KHOU 11 News: “They have nothing to do with you guys except for selling your product?

Sgitcovitch: “Correct.”

But he says there are rules the kiosks have to follow. For instance, Sgitcovitch confirms we were definitely overcharged.

KHOU 11 News: “So they can’t go above the online price?”

Sgitcovitch: “They’re not supposed to.”

So we went back to the mall to confront the salespeople at the kiosk.

KHOU 11 News: “My name is Courtney Zubowski and I’m with Channel 11. How come you guys aren’t being fair to your customers with return policies, why aren’t you being up front?

Bella Terra Salesperson: “I cannot comment.”

KHOU 11 News: “Could we talk to you about some of your policies and practices? Is there anyone that can talk to us about it?”

But in the end, they just walked away without speaking to us.

Since the salespeople at the kiosk weren’t saying much, we couldn’t find out who is running the kiosk.

According to Sgitcovitch, he’s happy to give a refund if someone is dissatisfied with the product and he tells us he has fined some of the people who run the kiosks to make up the difference.

After contacting the BBB, both Judy Tincher and Grace Mansfield got a refund from Bella Terra.

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