Woman 85 sues slimming centre over 400k treatment: An analysis of sinister sales tactics

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So how did an 85 year old lady end up paying $400,000 for slimming sessions that don’t work?

 

I read with interest about this diabetic 82-year-old lady who went to London Weight Management after seeing its TV commercial touting a weight-loss trial session for $18. She wanted to lose weight for health reasons. So she went there expecting to pay $18 for a trial and ended up paying them nearly $400,000 (about 22,000% more) . Now, she’s suing them to get her money back.

How did this happen? How does someone end up paying so much for something they didn’t even want in the first place?

 

Let’s look at some of the powerful influence techniques that marketers use against us.

 

Sidenote: Leaving aside the fact that a Calories In < Calories Out is the only way to lose weight, why would anyone trust some place called “LONDON” weight management? 62% of adults in England are classified as overweight or obese. They’re only marginally better off than Americans….

 

So let’s see what techniques these slimming center use:

 

The foot in the door technique.

At the time of this writing, a quick Google search reveals around 20 of these slimming centers in Singapore. And guess what, all of them offer some sort of low cost trial. Why is this technique effective?

 

The foot-in-the-door (FITD) technique is a compliance tactic. You first get a person to agree to a modest request, then follow up with a larger request. This technique works by what social scientists call “successive approximations”. The first request creates a bond. The request can be trivial like a trial; what’s important is the relationship it creates.

 

Once we’ve set yes to the first request, we feel obliged to say yes to requests along the same line.

 

If you look at the time-line of the payments, you can see this is exactly what happened.

  1. $18 for a trial
  2. $10,914 on the spot
  3. $66,768 6 days after trial
  4. $321,000 8 days after trial

The more commitments you agree to, the more likely you are to continue in the same direction.

Body shame

Let’s take a look at what this redditor /u/bananadiaspora had to say about this slimming center:

 

“I went with a friend who wanted to redeem her free trial two years ago but didn’t want to walk in alone, and got a free “consultation” (read: verbal teardown) despite not wanting to be a customer at all.

So while my friend went in for her consultation, this beautician sat me down and tried talking me into trying and buying one of their slimming packages. Not wanting to be rude at first, I politely declined the offer and said I’m just waiting for my friend.

This woman then went on to lecture me about the various parts of my body that was too fat.. “Your belly is huge!”, “Your thighs too big!!!”, “You need to lose weight to gain self confidence!!!”… I was utterly at a loss for words.”

 

Research has shown that women experience body shame far more than men; just look at what happened to Madonna.

 

A lot of women feel some degree of body shame and these slimming centers mostly target women. It’s quite scary to see them employ body shaming as a technique
to increase sign-ups.

 

The consistency principle

The article claims that the son was “brainwashed” into paying the money. It was the son, and not the lady who paid. “Brainwashing” is actually far easier to achieve than most people think. You don’t even need to hypnotize or show people subliminal images. All that is needed is heavy usage of the consistency principle. The consistency principle was popularized in Robert Ciadini’s book “Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion”. Brainwashing is achieved by asking the subject to take incremental actions that increasingly demonstrate a new belief or action. This was used to convert American POWs to communist ideals during the Korean war.

 

Simply put, people have a strong desire to match their values with their actions.

 

So let’s take this case for example: the son paid for her sick mother. One of the values that many Asians hold dear is the concept of filial piety. We would do a lot for our sick parents. I’m going to assume the son is pretty smart (purely on his ability to have $400,000 lying around), so why did he not realize the treatment was vastly overpriced?

 

What incremental actions could the slimming center have taken to “brainwash” him?

  1. Get him to agree slimming down will help his mother’s sickness
  2. Talk about how filial he is, being willing to pay for his mother’s treatment and accompanying her to the trial session
  3. Establish the company credentials about previous patient’s successes
  4. Bypass all talks about money by circling back to the previous 3 points

 

The consistency principle can be very sinister as the desire to be consistent with our values can bypass our logical brain. Instead of thinking, can this treatment really help and isn’t this a tad too expensive? The brain goes like, I am filial to my mother :–> this treatment can help my mum :–> I will do whatever it takes to help her.

So how do we defend ourselves against these techniques?

It’s hard to avoid throwing good money after bad money to chase a result. I’ve done it myself. And it’s what caused the son to spend $400,000. If you’re caught in a situation like this, listen to your gut, are you being pushed by sales tactics to agree to requests we know we don’t want to perform?

 

If you have a bad feeling about the situation (shades of Star Wars), review the transactions as a whole. If you knew at the start that the treatment would have cost 400,000, would you still have bought it?

 

PS: If you want to learn more about why our brain handles money poorly

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Comments

  1. Frederick Ho says:

    From a mere $18 to almost $400k? Unbelievable! They have all the time to walk off! Something must be holding them. The sales pitch must be so beguiling and prolong that they just pay and pay and pay. To possess this amount of cash, shows the younger man is not a simpleton but someone smart enough not to be con. The spell cast normally will be broken when sight and hearing disconnect when they went home. The separation allows the mind to return to regain control. The spell must be super strong here I admit. London Slimming Centre really takes the cake.

    I had taught some sales techniques to salespersons on how to hypnotize potential victims. You can talk someone till he will just do what you direct them to do. Possible. I have seen it happened a number of times before by very experienced salesmen.

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