Knobs and knockers: Consumer NZ calls for action against doorstep violators

Consumer New Zealand is calling for door-to-door salesman to be locked out in a new campaign released earlier this week.   

The consumer watchdog’s chief executive Sue Chetwin says the organisation often gets complaints about the “hard-sell and exploitative sales tactics” the doorknockers use.

“Many cases involve elderly or vulnerable consumers, pressured to sign up for products they don’t want and can’t afford,” she says.

The used vacuum cleaner salesman image is alive and well, with Chetwin saying they had also dealt with complaints from consumers pressured to buy “grossly overpriced beds and other household goods they couldn’t afford and had to go into debt to purchase.”

Consumers won a battle against dodgy door-to-door salespeople this year when the law was changed allowing a seven-day ‘cooling-off’ clause for sales at the door over $40.

However, Chetwin says consumers who buy from dodgy door-to-door salespeople are not necessarily going to know about the clause.

“Door-to-door sales people are getting smarter particularly with the outrageously priced vacuum cleaners and wonderful beds and computer education software. They target areas where people are vulnerable, have less money, or are older and are way less likely to know about the cooling off periods and the sellers are very unlikely to tell them their rights.”

Salespeople are legally allowed to knock on someone’s door unless that person has a “Do not knock” sign, in which case the “knocker” can be charged for trespass.

Consumer NZ is distributing free “Do not knock” stickers as part of its campaign to protect consumers from unwanted intrusion.

In May of this year, Genesis Energy made the news with this campaign announcing they would no longer be knocking on doors to offer changeover deals.

It was one of the first companies to voluntarily back away from door knocking, announcing the decision in May on Fair Go, and with an integrated campaign.

The company also sent out letters to customers and direct mail with free “Do not knock” stickers, like the ones Consumer NZ is sending out currently.

Genesis spokesman Richard Gordon says before pulling out of the sales channel Genesis conducted research that proved its New Zealander’s were over door-knockers.

“We knew for some time the level of antagonism was growing, but we wanted to get some good data on that before making the call. We found 81 percent don’t like door-to-door salespeople coming to their home, and 67 percent would actually like door-to-door sales to be stopped completely.”

Gordon says losing the sales channel meant they had to find new channels to replace what was (and still is for some retailers) a brilliant way to sell energy and switchovers.

“Door knocking as a sales channel has been very effective for us in the past, particularly in new areas and able to offer a very attractive deal but our view is as a sales channel it’s becoming less and less effective over time, and at the same time people’s reaction is becoming more and more irritated.

“So there was a descending line on the side of effectiveness, and an increasing line on irritation, so at the time we withdrew we beefed up our other sales activities and we’ve actually had some pretty good results in the last couple of months.”

This included using the same contractors they used for door-to-door sales and instead setting them up in in-mall kiosks.

“It’s more self-selecting,” Gordon says.

Genesis has also ramped up online channels, worked internally on sales signups and processes, as well as sponsoring My Kitchen Rules and doing a campaign offering a first month of electricity free.

“Now we basically focus on different sales channels. There are plenty of ways people can sign up without having their front door knocked.”

Genesis is supportive of Consumer New Zealand’s campaign, and is quick to distinguish between commercial salespeople and charities.

“We make it clear on our website we are talking about door-to-door commercial salespeople rather than Greenpeace or World Vision or kids from school,” Gordon says.

Consumer NZ spokeswoman Sue Chetwin agrees, and can’t see charities having a problem with the “Do not knock” stickers.

“It’s up to the person who opens the door how far they want to invoke [a trespass suit]and if it’s a perfectly legitimate charity I don’t think they’ll have any problems at all.”

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