22 October 2016
California Fitness has been criticized for its intimidating and misleading sales practices. Photo: Wikipedia
California Fitness has been criticized for its intimidating and misleading sales practices. Photo: Wikipedia

Consumer Council blasts California Fitness over sales practices

The Consumer Council must have had enough of the complaints against sales malpractices of gyms and fitness centers, and has decided to name and shame the alleged culprits.

For the first time, the consumer watchdog publicly named fitness center operator California Fitness and criticized it for its intimidating and misleading sales practices to press consumers to purchase membership and high-priced private lessons, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

It said some customers, after signing membership contracts, were even forced to take pictures of themselves smiling and in a happy mood to show that they joined the center voluntarily before being released from the premises.

The victims included students and mentally disabled people.

The watchdog said consumer complaints against California Fitness reached 296 cases last year, or 50 percent of the total number of complaints against fitness centers.

In early January, the Consumer Council held a meeting with the center’s management to express strong dissatisfaction with the improper sales tactics that its staff continued to deploy despite the council’s repeated warnings, Apple Daily reported.

However, complaints against the fitness center soared 29 percent in the first quarter, compared with the same period a year ago.

One of the complainants was persuaded between 2013 an 2015 to purchase membership and private tutor classes worth HK$550,000, including a seven-year membership at a fee of over HK$20,000.

The complainant sought the council’s help for a refund of HK$200,000 representing the unused private class fees as the fees for classes worth HK$350,000 were deemed to have been already used or have expired.

Unfortunately, no agreement could be reached between the two parties after a conciliation meeting.

The complainant and her family decided to pursue the case through lawyers and requested the council to refer it to the Customs Department.

The watchdog urged consumers to study service contracts carefully before signing them, and not to readily disclose personal information such as identity and credit cards as well as bank accounts without first understanding what they are getting into.

Lawmaker Tang Ka-piu of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions said staff members of fitness centers are very aggressive in signing in clients because of the commissions they receive.

He called for a seven-day cooling period before a service contract takes effect to protect consumers.

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