The Smell of Bullshit part 5 – competition prizes and limited edition goods vs Consumer Protection Regulations

One of the things that Lush have used their forum for is competitions for the forumites. I think they also run them on their facebook page too, although I don’t pay much attention to them on facebook. Some of the competitions have been enjoyable – I’ve won prizes myself – and I know many forum users have had a lot of fun out of them. Some of them have involved quite a lot of creativity and they’ve given the users the chance to show their talents. And some of the prizes have been very generous indeed.

But there have been complaints over the past couple of years that not every prize winner has received their prize. Comments and complaints about it have been on the forum for months and years, out there in the public domain where you can see for yourself, because some competitions have gone for months and years without even being judged. That seems a bit mean, I hear you thinking, possibly even unfair. Possibly even unlawful.

The Trade Descriptions Act 1968 has a bit to say about competitions without prizes, supported by and expanded upon by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. The TDA is similar to our civil consumer rights, but takes things a step further by making it a criminal offence for a company to describe goods or services falsely. The 2008 regulations automatically outlaw 31 unfair practices, such as saying you belong to a trade association when you don’t, pretending to be a customer (see the ban for firms posing as happy customers online MSE News story) and competitions with no prizes. The Consumer Protection regulations say

Commercial practices which are in all circumstances considered unfair

31.  Creating the false impression that the consumer has already won, will win, or will on doing a particular act win, a prize or other equivalent benefit, when in fact either—
(a)there is no prize or other equivalent benefit, or
(b)taking any action in relation to claiming the prize or other equivalent benefit is subject to the consumer paying money or incurring a cost.

Wouldn’t you agree that a competition in which winners have not received their prize over a year later is a “competition” in which the company has created a false impression that the consumer has won or will win a prize? If I was one of those forum users waiting for a prize for that long, or one of those forum users waiting for a competition to be judged for over a year, I think I’d be contacting Trading Standards. There’s lots of info on the web about how to do it. But then, the most recent comment on this post suggest that Lush have so little respect for their customers, particularly the forum users, that they don’t care about treating them so badly. They’re just fat crazy weirdos.

One of the other things that customers of any company should be aware of is their rights regarding limited edition goods. The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulation 2008 state

Commercial practices which are in all circumstances considered unfair

7. Falsely stating that a product will only be available for a very limited time, or that it will only be available on particular terms for a very limited time, in order to elicit an immediate decision and deprive consumers of sufficient opportunity or time to make an informed choice

Lush made a product called Hairdresser’s Husband (wanky name, I know) which they made available to the first Gallery visitors in London telling them they would only ever be able to buy it there. But since then it has mysteriously appeared in several places – the Covent Garden shop, shop launches and other special events. Now, of course, it might well be that Lush only ever intended Hairdresser’s Husband to be available at the Gallery and they decided to make it available elsewhere later because word got round and other people clamoured for it. That is possible. But then there were their very expensive haircare products which were launched on the forum with the unambiguous statement that they were “special products, never to be sold in shops.” And then they “launched” them again at Lushfest and then put them into the shops at significantly lower prices than those at which they had been sold on the forum. I think that might be a breach of clause 7 as noted above. Lush know fine well that the forum users like to have access to special products and that some people will pay a lot of money for them, paying well over the odds on ebay/forum swaps if they’re no longer available from the company. And they told the forum these items would never be available in the shops, sold a lot of them for a lot of money, then put them in the shops at a lower price. That looks a lot like sharp practice to me.

If any of the forumites who have been waiting for a competition to be judged for months, or waiting to receive a prize they were promised months ago would like to share their feelings about that here, or tell us how they feel knowing that Lush might be behaving unlawfully, they’re very welcome to. Similarly, I’d like to know how the people who paid inflated prices for hair products thinking it was their only chance to get them felt on seeing them in the shops for less, and how they feel now knowing that might well be unlawful. The comments are open – comment away.

12 thoughts on “The Smell of Bullshit part 5 – competition prizes and limited edition goods vs Consumer Protection Regulations

  1. I love that none of this is angry or bitter. It’s just the truth. Oh Mark, time to learn that we reap what we sow. And I’m not just looking at you. All of you reading this, sat together and rolling your eyes and passing comment… Mafia? Perfect name for you bunch.

    I do love the press… It’s amazing how you can be a so well thought of one minute, and then the truth will out and next thing you know your name is mud. And the papers do love a good story.

  2. On the forum in late 2011, I won an all-expenses-paid buying trip. According to the prize description, I would be travelling with the Lush buying team in Spring 2012 to visit one of their fresh ingredient suppliers outside the UK. This was a creative competition so I spent time and effort writing a poem for my entry and was absolutely thrilled to hear that I had been chosen as the winner.

    After emailing my details to two particular members of staff (I’ll call them #1 and #2) as requested, I heard nothing back at all. A month later, having carefully checked my junk email folder and the forum and finding nothing, I assumed I had been forgotten. I therefore contacted both staff members on the forum. Staff Member #1 replied, apologising and explaining that they had both been busy. I was assured by this person that I hadn’t been forgotten.

    I heard absolutely nothing from anyone at Lush after that, which was very upsetting as I had been so looking forward to my trip of a lifetime. The idea of chasing it up a second time felt degrading and I just felt too embarrassed to say anything.

    Over a year passed, life got in the way etc. and I eventually plucked up the courage to bump my initial thread on the forum and enquire again about what happened to my prize. I received an apology from Staff Member #1 (still nothing at all from Staff Member #2) and was assured that it would be looked into. A few days later, I was informed that some headway had been made with the buying team. I was also told that Staff Member #2 (who, to this day, has not acknowledged a single message/email of mine) had left the company. According to Staff Member #1, nobody knows why Staff Member #2 never sorted out my prize. So it seems the blame is on Staff Member #2.

    A few days ago, I was asked for my details again and given a provisional date via email. I was told that my details would be forwarded to another member of staff, who would be contacting me. I’m still waiting to hear from Staff Member #3, but I’ll try to post an update when I hear something. Sadly, I’m not holding my breath and after reading the posts on this blog, I am a little apprehensive about dealing with people who have potentially labelled me a fat, crazy weirdo.

    I do not feel like I have won a prize; I feel like I have been promised something lovely and then ignored and given excuses. It’s a horrible feeling and it’s left a really bad taste in my mouth. I’m prepared to give them this second chance to put things right and deliver the prize that I put time and effort into winning fair and square. If nothing happens this time around, I will be contacting Trading Standards.

  3. Disgusting behaviour from Lush but sadly what we now expect. I think the staff member they blamed may have been sacked. I’m told that they like to sack employees for no reason and don’t have any employment policies that abide by current UK employment law.

    As a complete aside, I beg any Lush employee reading this to join a union. USDAW is the one you need.

  4. I feel so genuinely sad about this. Not angry, just sad. I was a member of the Lush forum for a long time, made some good friends (ones I meet up with ‘in real life’) and good cyber friends too. We were a happy community. I considered Mark and Hilary to be friends. I know that sounds silly really, but we did have a good time together. I feel stupid, foolish, cheated and betrayed. This is what happens when you have ‘nice’ companies who use you for free marketing. I will never shop at Lush again.

  5. funny how customer care pretty much ignored all my complaint letter and believe me there was about 12 in a four month period, nothing happened until I said to them I was going to contact trading standards, then all of a sudden I was given replacements on all damaged, broken missing faulty items and gift sets, I will never use them again, it’s so sad that they do not care about customers, And the things “BIG” says on the forum is truly disgusting. He doesn’t deserve loyal customers.

  6. I’d like to tell you about my prize experience as a staff member. In the spring of ’09 I was an SA in a US Lush shop. The North American shops are run out of Canada. At that time Lush Canada were putting a lot of pressure on the US shops to increase their sales figures. Canada setup a 30 day contest between just the top producing US stores, and the store I worked in was one of them. The goal was to see which store could bring in the most dollar volume within 30 days, and which store could increase its sales percentage by the greatest amount overall. The prizes were to be a large quantity of Lush merchandise from the UK and B Never products, divided amongst the staff of the winning stores. During that 30 day period, our store was assigned two individuals who worked in Lush regional management in a different sales region of the country. They were put up at a hotel and their meals were paid. (This was in a worldwide tourist mecca.) They came in and ran roughshod over the entire staff and violated every company policy that we were ever trained to uphold. They said that there tactics were on the instuctions of the Canadian owner of the rights to Lush. Their only goal was to make as much money as possible and upsell every customer, making sure they left with a basketfull of merchandise whether the products met their needs or not. (The level of returns within the subsequent 30 days set new records.) The amount of stock ordered bordered on the ridiculous and was literally piled to the rafters in the store room. Instructions were to move the merchandise in volume by demoing literally every minute of the day and try to sell each and every person entering the store the trio of Dream Cream, Ocean Salt, and Lemony Flutter. We were instructed to grab baskets and follow the customers around the store, placing items in their basket regardless of whether they chose them or not. Lying to customers was rampant and the staff was totally demoralized by the public humiliation, ridicule and abuse these “ladies” doled out. They fired the manager who stood up for her staff and tried to uphold what we understood the Lush values to be. As the end of the 30 days drew near and it was clear that our store would place second rather than first, the regional managers spent fewer and fewer hours in the store, and the rest of the staff had to make up their man hours on the floor. At that point the management assignees spent the rest of their days partying (this is a MAJOR tourist town) until the wee small hours and only came in extremely hungover for an hour or two before dinner. They did stupid stuff like hiring a stiltwalker that they met at a bar to come in and perform on the shop floor. Their disdain for us was palpable and the only consolation the staff had was that these two contracted bed bugs in their hotel. Ultimately our store placed second in the contest and these two witches flew home on their brooms. But the store and the morale were never the same, and a series of assigned temporary managers came and went, all the best SA’s had been fired or left in disillusionment. There was no mechanism set up to claim our prize, and no one around at a level higher than SA to push for it. I was bound and determined that after the agony we had endured that we at least would get our rightfully earned prize. I kept pressing it with each new temporary manager we got.
    Ultimately, after 6 months of demanding, we finally got our shipment of goodies from the UK. Unfortunately, a third of what we were due had been subtracted out and sent to the two regional witches. (As upper management they weren’t supposed to share in the booty.) One day I’d had enough and hung up my apron and quit. My eyes were opened by this horrible experience and I have neve looked at Lush the same again. (I was a customer since 1997 and an SA for a year.) If there is no ethical behavior in how staff are treated, it is impossible for me to believe that ethics abound in any other area of the company. I continue to buy the odd product that suits me, but no longer wearing rose colored glasses.

  7. Lush should be very afraid because customers and staff are beginning to see the truth. There are some fab people at Lush but none of these is in the ‘Lush mafia’! They bully people into silence all the time and im happy to see that people are finally getting courage to speak up for themselves and customers!

  8. S1, I was wondering if anything ever came of that trip. I’d have been gutted, I was desperate to win that prize. I was never sent a prize from a competition in 2009 – I sent a few emails, FAO’d the staff member in charge and other people mentioned it to him too, to which he gave a “oh no, how can this be *crying smilie* and then never followed it up. At least mine was probably only worth a few pounds, unlike yours.

  9. It happens in shops too. Whilst manager of a UK store I won a premiership trip. The shops used to be arranged in leagues and if your shop did very well and took lots of money, got good mystery shop results and increased sales from the year before you moved up a league. If your shop was in the top (premiership) league for three out of four quarters of the year you got a prize whereby you could go and work for a week in a Lush shop anywhere in the world all expenses paid. What a fabulous opportunity! My shop did so well in its first two years that I won a trip. I wasn’t sure who to approach about my winning them and eventually asked a member of the then retail support. I was told to await further instructions. I waited. And waited.

    At each managers meeting you would hear from ecstatic managers who had been to Japan and far flung places on their premiership trips. These managers were ‘in the loop’ managers who had good ‘Lush Mafia’ connections so it was hardly surprising that they got their trips. I continued to wait for my trip.

    A year or two later I was approached by a member of the retail support/mystery shopper team and told that I should have asked about my trips earlier but now they had got my place sorted and they would like me to go to a new shop opening the following week in Budapest! Just like that! I had been told that you got to choose where you wanted to go but this person just told me where I was going. It was too little notice and I had to say that I couldn’t just up and leave my shop, kids, family at such short notice and that my passport had recently expired and I hadn’t got the money to renew it at that time. She said they would sort somewhere else for me to go in a couple of months.

    I informed her that in the meantime my shop had again got into the premiership and that I had won another trip. After this she said that I would definitely get a good trip and would probably get to choose where I would like to go but that long haul trips were now outlawed because of Lush’s carbon neutral stance and it’s ban on unnecessary flying so I would have to go somewhere in Europe. This was fine as I didn’t want to go too far anyway. She said she would get in touch with me by the end of the week. To be fair tho she didn’t say what week.

    Three years later I had still heard nothing so i assumed that I wasn’t getting my trip.

    The store structure changed and the premiership idea was changed. It was supposed to be made fairer but there were never any prizes on offer after this. i wonder why?

    I have now left the company, having never received my prizes. I guess it was Budapest or bust!

  10. Pingback: The Smell of Bullshit: the comments post | Mitherings from Morningside

  11. I have never had any customer service problems with Lush so I guess I am one of the lucky few it seems. It’s awful to read what problems others have had.
    I did however buy all those expensive hair products from the hair products from the hair product forum party. Till now I hadn’t realised they are now cheaper in shops and now that I know I feel scammed out of my money.

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