I was so naive and unprepared when I went for my first beauty/wellness service at a Singapore spa. In the US, I had only been to one other spa prior to moving here. My spa experiences between the two countries were like night and day. This is because in the US, hard selling is not common. To be honest, I had never encountered a hard sell before in my life… that is, until I bought two vouchers from Groupon.sg, one for a massage and another for a slimming session.
The steeply discounted offers enticed me to try out their services. However, I soon realized that such promotional offers were a company’s bait. And that I naively took the bait and was about to get lured in. The slimming centre salesperson employed tactics like guilt, shame, pressure, and even ridicule. The massage centre salesperson was slightly nicer, but still tried her best to wear me out and waste my time.
But I stayed strong and left both places with my dignity and wallet intact. Others weren’t so lucky. Since that first eye-opening experience, I’ve visited and tried out a handful of other spas. Each time, I would bravely walk into the lion’s den with my voucher in hand, and then leave the centre unscathed. I have heard a variety of pitches, been yelled at a few times, and endured different hard selling techniques, all while testing out my own techniques of countering, deflecting, and avoiding the hard sell. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:
Why hard selling works:
I think the reason why hard selling is so effective against unsuspecting and unprepared victims is because salespeople prey on four main attributes that seem to resonate very strongly with Singaporean culture. Knowing this might help you mentally prepare and see through their guise.
1. “Kiasu” (i.e., fear of losing or missing an opportunity). These wellness centres have ridiculously high prices on their brochures and websites. They will tell you that this is their usual price, but “for today only” they will offer you a 40% or 50% discount if you pay in full for a package, or at the very least, make a sizable non-refundable deposit. The time-sensitive discount appeals to the “kiasu” mentality. Who doesn’t want a good deal? What they don’t tell you is that once you sign for a package, they will keep up-selling you more and more products and services until you become a long-term, maybe even lifelong, “high-roller”.
2. Guilt. They want to make you feel like you cheated them, since what they give you was valued at so much more than what you paid (if you’re using a trial or voucher). If they can successfully make you feel like you owe them something, they are in a good position to ask you to spend a bit more and buy a package. If you think their packages are well priced, worth the upfront cost, and you are able to fully utilize them, then by all means, go ahead and buy them. Just don’t buy anything purely out of guilt.
3. Your friendliness and need to please people. If they sense that you have low self-esteem, they will prey on your need to be liked, and your unwillingness to disappoint others. These salespeople will be so sweet to you (as if you were their best friend) if you just buy their package. But if you don’t, they can become very nasty. But who cares, right? You’ll probably never see these people again. So what if they think you’re evil, cheap, ugly, fat, rude, selfish, and annoying. It’s nothing personal. Even if they think you’re an angel, as soon as they make the sale, they’ll quickly forget about you and move on to the next prey.
4. Your desire to stay relaxed. The last tactic may not actually be intentional. But I’ve experienced this many times, especially in massage centres. After you’ve been soften up and are in a calm, relaxing state of mind, they start to aggressive push their sale. At that very moment, all you want from them is to leave you in that blissful zen-like state. But they simply won’t let that happen unless you fork over more money. This is why some people say they leave these centres in a more stressful state than when they came in.
Methods and excuses I’ve used to avoid and escape hard sells:
1. “My spouse controls the money.” I tell them that because my husband earns more, he makes all financial decisions that exceed $50. This is a lie, of course. If you want to be even more convincing (and sharpen your acting skills), you can say that your spouse controls the money because you’ve had problems in the past making impulsive financial decisions that have put your marriage at risk. I’ve never had to go there, but I’ve gone as far as to phone my husband and talk to him in front of the salesperson. He knows that I’m going to do this so he just plays along. I sometimes will hand the phone over to the salesperson. But they usually will refuse confrontation with my husband, and let me leave.
2. “I’ll have to pray about it.” You just can’t argue with religious inclinations, especially those that seem very admirable. Sometimes salespeople will ask, “Why do you need to pray about it?”. But they’ve never gone as far as to say “I think God wants you to buy this.” Then once I’m free to go, I usually will end the conversation with a lot of thanks, compliments, kind words, and blessings to the salesperson. This excuse is quick and effective and leaves both parties feeling pretty good.
3. Go empty-handed. If you easily give into temptation, and don’t mind the evil glares, go empty-handed. Leave your wallet and money at home. Just bring your IC and the voucher. Or if you’re paying for a trial, bring the exact amount in cash (don’t forget GST) and nothing extra. That way, even if you want to buy their expensive package, you’ll have to wait. You’ll have no chance to make an on-the-spot impulsive purchase. If on your way home, you later realise you really wanted to buy the package, you could always call and pay over the phone.
Methods and techniques to get to their best offer quickly:
If you are interested in buying a package, but want their best offer or want a smaller package, the next set of strategies can be very effective in achieving this.
1. “My husband just bought me a package elsewhere.” I tell them that I would absolutely love to buy their package, but was just given (as a gift) another package elsewhere. To be convincing, I’ll mention a specific spa, package, and price. Make them think you’ve already spent way too much on wellness services, and they will try to sell you a smaller package and/or offer you a more competitively priced deal. You could keep playing hard to get until they give you their very best offer.
2. “Money is not an issue. I need flexibility more than I need a discount.” This may seem contrary to what you’re trying to achieve, but if you make it seem like the time commitment or location is just way too inconvenient (something they cannot easily verify or argue against), they will try to compensate by making an even better offer to offset these downsides.
I know some people think I’m taking advantage of these places by only buying their promotional services. But these companies willingly and purposely offer such deeply discounted promotions with no minimum spending requirement. Some people might think that these strategies are low, dirty, and unethical. Likewise, I can say that it is quite unethical to pressure someone into buying something, knowing full well that they have reservations or are uneasy with the purchase.
For the record, I’ve only gotten two massages, two slimming session, and one facial. For each of these services, I paid an amount that I considered to be fair. It is not my intention to take advantage of these places. I simply want to buy good services, on an as-needed basis. And not be committed to an expensive package or be constantly given hard-sells or up-sells. Personally, I wish there were more places that just offered good, affordable a la carte services without up-selling or hard-selling of packages.
Fortunately, I managed to find a place that’s cheap and does not use hard-selling tactics. You can read about that place here.