Felixstowe company accused of using 'aggressive' sales techniques on vulnerable customers
PUBLISHED: 07:00 16 December 2014 | UPDATED: 10:04 16 December 2014
A Felixstowe based company used "aggressive and high pressure" selling techniques to get vulnerable and older customers to buy its products, it has been alleged.
Salesmen working for Westminister Recliners Ltd had appointments lasting up to three hours in customers’ homes and after allegedly “wearing them down” got them to “sign on the dotted line” and pay large deposits, Ipswich Crown Court was told.
Miles Bennett, prosecuting for Suffolk Trading Standards, said that when customers tried to cancel their orders and get a refund they were allegedly made to sign a “gagging order” preventing them from discussing their issues with the company which effectively stopped them from complaining to Trading Standards.
He also alleged that the company’s website was misleading by claiming Westminister Recliners was “proud of its hand crafted furniture” when in fact it didn’t manufacture its own furniture.
Before the court are father and son Oliver Waters, 66, and David Waters, 26, both of Manwick Road, Felixstowe who have denied eight offences of engaging in unfair commercial practices between May 2012 and January 2013 while they were managers of Westminister Recliners Ltd. The company, which is based in Felixstowe, faces eight similar offences.
Mr Bennett told the court the offences before the court were committed while the defendants were being investigated by Suffollk Trading Standards Department for the sale of recliner chairs under the name of Mobility UK Ltd.
He said that in March 2013 Oliver and David Waters and Mobility UK Ltd had pleaded guilty to a number of offences relating to aggressive and misleading commercial practices under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.
“The prosecution say that by and large it was as if nothing had changed other than the company name,” said Mr Bennett.
He said that an 85-year-old woman contacted the company after seeing an advertisement in a national newspaper.
When the woman rang to find out the price of a recliner she was told a salesman would have to visit her house and a brochure she was sent didn’t contain any prices either.
Mr Bennett alleged this was a tactic used by the company to get a salesman into a customer’s home and then use “hard sell” techniques during a lengthy consultation to get them to sign on the dotted line.
The woman reluctantly agreed to let a salesman visit her at home and was given a starting price of £7,000 which was reduced to £5,000 during the meeting.
After the salesman had been in her house for nearly three hours the woman agreed to buy two chairs for £3,015 and a deposit for £1,557 was taken from her debit card.
Three days after the appointment she tried to cancel the order because she felt she had been pressured into signing on the dotted line but was initially told nothing could be done and was then told how much it would cost to cancel the order.
She contacted Trading Standards and eventually got a refund more than three months later. “It was only because of the involvement of Trading Standards she got her money back,” said Mr Bennett.
The trial continues today.