Picture-Perfect Pressure: Protect yourself from unfair contract sales tactics
Gap Studios, a photography studio based in Newstead, Queensland, has been accused of using unethical and manipulative business practices and unfair contract terms to deceive customers into spending thousands of dollars on photos.
The studio frequently promotes "free" photography sessions on social media, encouraging people to sign up with the promise of a chance to win the free photography experience. However, those who enter the competition are in for a nasty surprise.
What are the accusations against Gap Studios?
Customers who believe they are only signing up for a free photoshoot and one free photo of their choice say they are being pressured into paying thousands of dollars for photos they never intended to buy.
Complaints Board and Reddit have been flooded with comments from customers who have felt deceived by Gap Studios' promotions of "free" photography sessions. They maintain that once in the door they have felt huge pressure to spend thousands on images, turning what was supposed to be a joyful occasion into a stressful one.
Unethical sales and unfair contract tactics
The practice of pressuring customers into making a choice on the spot, or risk losing their photos, is a classic example of high-pressure sales techniques, says Handle My Complaint CEO Jo Ucukalo.. “It is especially concerning when they are used to target families with young children and new mothers who may be more susceptible to emotional manipulation. It is important for consumers to be aware of such tactics and to be cautious when dealing with businesses that use emotional selling as a way to make a profit.
By promoting "free" photography sessions under the guise of a competition, customers are led to believe they have won something valuable, only to be subjected to high-pressure sales tactics. This erodes trust between the business and its customers, but it can also lead to financial loss and emotional distress for those who cannot afford to pay for photos
While some customers have described being emotionally manipulated during the sales process, others have expressed concern about the lack of transparency on the studio's website and invoices, with no Australian Business Number (ABN) listed and no cooling-off period offered for purchases. This has raised suspicions about the studio's legitimacy and credibility.
Does a business need to provide an ABN?
Under Australian tax laws, businesses are required to have an ABN and include it on all tax invoices they issue to customers. Not having an ABN on an invoice could be a red flag that the business is not operating legally or may be trying to avoid paying taxes. As a consumer, it is important to ensure that any invoices or receipts you receive include the necessary information, such as the business name, ABN, and a description of the goods or services provided.
Is it an unfair contract without a cooling off?
It is concerning that Gap Studios does not offer a cooling off period for customers who may have been pressured into signing up for payment plans they cannot afford. While businesses are not required to provide a cooling off period when customers sign contracts on their premises, it is important to note that consumers have the right to cancel unsolicited consumer agreements made in public or at their homes within a 10-day cooling off period.
By not offering this option, Gap Studios is potentially trapping customers into long-term financial commitments that they may not be able to fulfill, which is unacceptable. It is important for businesses to be transparent and fair in their dealings with customers and to adhere to relevant consumer protection laws.
Tips for resisting high-pressure sales tactics
Some strategies that consumers can use when dealing with a salesperson who is pushing them to agree to a contract or payment plan they don't want:
- Take your time: Don't feel rushed into making a decision. Take a step back, ask for some time to think it over, and do your own research online to see if others are complaining.
- Ask questions: If you're not sure about something, ask. Make sure you fully understand what you're agreeing to before you sign anything.
- Be assertive: If you're not interested, be clear and firm in your refusal. Don't let the salesperson pressure you into something you don't want.
- Get it in writing: If you do decide to go ahead with a purchase or contract, make sure you get all the details in writing. This can help avoid disputes later on.
- Seek help: If you feel like you're being treated unfairly, or you're not sure of your rights, seek help from a consumer advocacy group, a legal aid clinic, or your state or territory consumer affairs agency.
As a consumer, you have the right to be treated fairly and honestly by businesses. The Australian Consumer Law prohibits traders from using undue harassment and coercion to sell their products, which includes emotionally manipulating customers into making purchases they may not be able to afford.
If you feel uncomfortable or pressured during a sales pitch, you have the right to ask the salesperson to stop and leave you alone. It is important to remember that you are not obligated to make a purchase or sign a contract if you do not feel comfortable doing so. If you have concerns about the business practices of a particular company, you can report them to the relevant consumer protection agency for investigation.
In addition to undue harassment and coercion, businesses are also prohibited from including unfair terms in their contracts with consumers. An unfair contract term is one that creates a significant imbalance in the parties' rights and obligations and is not reasonably necessary to protect the legitimate interests of the business.
Investigation launched into Gap Studios' unfair contract practices
It is clear that something needs to be done to address the unethical business practices of Gap Studios. It’s believed that Queensland Office of Fair Trading has already launched an investigation into the studio's activities, and it is hoped that this will result in action being taken to protect consumers from being exploited in the future.
It's important for consumers to speak up and make a complaint if they feel they have been taken advantage of or if something doesn't feel right, so that authorities can take action to protect consumers from deceptive and exploitative business practices.
If you feel your rights have been violated, you may have grounds for a complaint under Australian Consumer Law. If you have experienced a similar situation where you have been pressured into buying something, or have been misled, treated unfairly, or given unfair contract terms by a business, speak up and make a complaint. Handle My Complaint can guide you through the process and help you achieve a fair outcome.
Watch Jo Ucukalo's segment on Channel 9's A Current Affair to hear the warnings of unhappy customers and learn how to avoid falling for these shameless and unethical practices.