The Consumer Council has warned customers to “be wary of pre-payment entrapments” when dealing with fitness centres.
A Council spokesperson said on Monday that unscrupulous sales practices still persist in the fitness centre industry. “The situation is worrisome as consumers are not well protected.”
Usual tactics include long-term memberships, an insufficient explanation of contract terms, and a lack of information transparency. The Council said “some fitness centres were evasive and glossed over details, while some refused to provide the service or contracts terms for review.”
Arbitrary conditions for refunds, early contract termination, and temporary suspension were also common. One fitness centre reportedly required the support of a medical certificate for temporary contract suspensions.
Improper sales practice
The Council also found sales practices which were highly improper. These included the salesperson emphasising “time-limited” offers and discounts, marathon persuasion tactics, and the use of harsh tones and commands to pressure consumers into making hasty decisions.
“Such sales tactics could constitute aggressive commercial practices under the Trade Descriptions Ordinance,” the council wrote. And if found guilty, the person responsible would be liable to a fine of up to $500,000 and to imprisonment for up to 5 years.
Address industry issues seriously
The Council urged the industry to review the conduct of salespersons, and said that they would liaise closely with enforcement authorities in order to ensure that consumers are treated fairly.
Consumers should also “assess their risk bearing capability, and evaluate their personal financial situation” before paying for fitness services, the council wrote, adding that customers should “avoid making a substantial one-off pre-payment or a longer-than-needed contract.”
The findings of the Council’s report were collected through direct enquiries and conducting mystery visits to over ten fitness centres in August. Of the 11 fitness centres that the Council sent enquires to, only one responded.
This research was carried out after the Council publicly condemned fitness centre California Fitness for their “unscrupulous practices deployed in selling memberships and services.” The gym, along with its sister fitness centres mYoga and LEAP, subsequently closed down in July owing to difficulties, affecting up to 100,000 members and 500 employees.