Consumer watchdog: Hard-sell gets scrutiny

By Celeste Gorrell Anstiss

It's a sales method that's been around as long as people have lived in houses - one foot in the doorway and a fast-paced hard sell.

Only more recently has the practice been overtaken by the telephone.

New laws are on the way for door-to-door salespeople and telemarketers would also be included.

But consumer advocates have greeted the new rules with a lukewarm response, fearing policymakers are not being tough enough.

This month's select committee report on the Consumer Law Reform Bill recognised that people were more likely to make bad decisions during door-to-door and over-the-phone situations - and said there were many cases where salespeople took "psychological advantage" of consumers.

"As well as being subjected to pressure sales techniques, consumers in uninvited direct-selling situations are likely to feel vulnerable because they are unprepared for the sale and a stranger is in their house uninvited," the report said.

The Door to Door Sales Act 1967 gives consumers a seven-day cooling-off period where they can change their mind, but only if they have signed a long-term contract.

The select committee wanted this extended to cover purchases paid for upfront and said salespeople should be bound to provide a "conspicuous and prominent" written disclosure that outlined this chance to rethink.

Other recommendations included bringing telemarketers into the regulations, as well as salespeople who solicit invitations into homes under the guise of "delivering a prize" or demonstrating a product.

Seminar selling, where people were enticed to attend a sales session with a free meal or giveaway, had also been pinpointed as a soft spot in existing legislation.

But Citizens Advice Bureau policy analyst Andrew Hubbard said the report left several gaps: it did not recommend restricting the times salespeople could telephone or door-knock and it did not support a legally binding "do not call" register.

Another change which potentially disadvantaged consumers was a recommendation for the regulations to apply only to purchases above $100 (at present this is $40).

Consumer NZ has advocated a 10-day "cooling off" period, but the seven days remain unchanged.

In its submission, Consumer NZ said it regularly received complaints about door-to-door salesmen, including one who accompanied a consumer to a cash machine so she could withdraw money to pay for a $3000 vacuum cleaner.

It said salespeople sometimes forced their way over the doorstep and remained in the house for hours at a time, keeping up "a hypnotic flow of persuasive sales talk".

Community Law Centre solicitor Kevin Campbell said he wanted a cooling-off period of five days before and after the product was delivered.

That would protect consumers from poor-quality goods as well as the difficulty in asking for a refund once in possession of a product.

The second reading of the Consumer Law Reform Bill is scheduled for later this year.

- Herald on Sunday

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