CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – For some, free samples are a highlight of a stroll down King Street; many of us would admit to walking past the candy shop multiple times to get a chunk of a fresh pecan praline.
For others, the sales tactics have become so aggressive, they now avoid the area. And the product peddlers are largely associated with a few similar cosmetics stores.
The conversation usually involves a generous compliment or question; however, reports show the friendly chatter often turns into an aggressive sales pitch.
“King Street would be much better off without this type of sales going on in this beautiful town. This company is a SCAM! I want my money back for this product; I want them to stand by their product and generate my refund,” wrote one reviewer.
The Better Business Bureau lists 12 complaints against Resveralife, 19 complaints against Soap Stories Tampa Bay Inc, 5 complaints against Adore Cosmetics, and 5 complaints against Tresor Rare, which has closed.
All of the four businesses on King Street were given an “F” rating by the BBB.
The State Department of Consumer Affairs also lists a combined 10 complaints against the four stores that are known to use the similar sales practices.
“I got sucked into spending $2,943.00, before I had time to think about it and argue with them. I honestly think the only way to get out of there without spending money is to fight your way out, which in hindsight I should’ve done,” wrote another reviewer.
Area businesses have also reported complaints against the stores. Croghan’s Jewel Box President, Mariana Hay said shoppers often cross the street to avoid salespeople on the sidewalk.
“We have never been a street that people have cross the street because they don’t want to be accosted,” said Hay. “That is what I find happens on our block. They don’t want to be solicited by people standing outside the door,” she said.
In July, Tori, who chose not to use her full name, was called into Resveralife while on a walk with her boyfriend just days after relocating to Charleston from New York City.
“She handed me soap and then the woman asked me to come inside the store because it is hot outside, [she said] ‘let me put the soap in Saran wrap’,” said Tori.
Tori said once inside the store the woman began pitching pricey skin products.
“I told them, ‘I don’t want to purchase this today’ and as I am starting to leave she takes me behind the computer and is showing me the real price of these products and she is lowering and lowering the prices the more I am denying it,” she said.
Tori spent $300 on products the woman claimed had 24-carat gold and caviar. Her purchase also included ‘free consultations with a skin specialist’.
A few minutes after leaving, Tori was contacted by the saleswoman.
“She left me a voicemail and texted me that her skin specialist is in today and ‘we would love to do your facial. You only need 20 minutes’ and I was like okay great,” said Tori.
During that “facial” products were pitched yet again, this time a high-priced skin laser.
“I immediately said. ‘I don’t really want to spend that right now. Do you offer single session facials?’ and that’s when it got serious; she said, extremely firmly ‘my time is extremely expensive,'” said Tori.
In total, Tori spent $4,556 dollars. When she returned home she opened the packaging and owners manual to learn she could not use the light wand because of her lupus diagnosis. Tori said she made her condition clear to the saleswoman.
Tori has been fighting for a refund for four months.
Lee, who chose not to use her full name, spent $14,000 at Tresor Rare in 2018.
According to Lee, a saleswoman complimented her boots when she was walking down King Street and encouraged her to come into the store for a demonstration of an under eye serum.
“She said it worked amazingly with my skin and told me I could be a presenter like Mariah Carey,” said Lee.
Lee purchased $6,104 in products. The purchase included 12 facials.
Lee said the day of her first facial she arrived to meet her ‘skin specialist’ who was wearing a lab coat, claimed he studied chemistry at an Ivy League school and flew from Los Angeles to meet her.
According to Lee, she was in the back ‘treatment’ room for three hours.
“I kept saying ‘no, I don’t want to buy anything more’ and they wouldn’t let me go until I said yes,” she said.
So she relented.
“I gave them my credit card and he wanted another one; they maxed out my credit cards and he said ‘I want to take you to the ATM to get money out of your bank account’,” she said.
Lee spent $7,000 on her credit card and $1,000 on her debit card.
The $8,000 worth of products were supposed to be shipped to Lee but she says she never received them.
She said she was asked to write a check for an additional $7,000. She said she explained that she did not have that much money in her account. She said the salesman told her he would not cash it until she added more money to the account.
“When I got out of there I thought $21,000! What in the world happened?” she said. “I called him and said I want to cancel and refund,” she continued.
The company said they have a strict no refund policy. Lee said they threatened her with jail time, a lawsuit, and court fees.
“It felt like getting mugged on King Street,” said Lee.
Lee fought for her money for six months. She picketed the store, passed out fliers, and hired a lawyers before getting $14,000 returned.
Tori and Lee reached out to News 2 to warn others of their experience.
News 2 contacted Resveralife for comment and did not get a response. When a News 2 crew arrived to the storefront on King Street, the saleswoman appeared to hide in the back room.
Several minutes later, the manager, who identified himself as Naor Ram, arrived at the store. He chose not to speak on camera but said he has been working with the bank to refund Tori her money.
Court records show, Naor’s full name is Naor Rahamin.
As for their sales tactics, Ram said staff members will be undergoing training in a response to complaints of aggressive behavior.
“We understand we are aggressive and we are willing to work with anyone to change it,” said Ram.
According to the City of Charleston’s Livability Department, 81 complaints have been filed since 2018 about the four stores. Collectively, they have been cited in court 25 times.
City of Charleston Councilman Mike Seekings said he has received several complaints about the four stores.
“I have heard from consumer, business owners, and residents alike that this is an issue for them it is aggressive and it is predatory,” he said.
In October, City Council considered an ordinance that would ban free samples along King Street, spanning from Broad Street to Spring Street and areas around the City Market.
The ordinance was tabled after some council members expressed concern about limiting business’ opportunities.
Seekings said not taking steps to curb aggressive sales tactics hurts neighboring businesses.
“If you are running a legitimate business on King Street we want you to succeed but if you are running a business on King Street that is hurting other businesses and sending them toward the opposite of success that is something we need to think about and address and We are going to,” Seekings said.
City of Charleston Director of Livability Dan Riccio said they are still looking for a solution.
“Weeding out problems like these without hurting legitimate businesses is one of the toughest challenges that come with this job. But as the mayor and council have made clear, protecting livability has to be a top priority, and we’re going to keep working this problem from every angle until we have it solved,” said Riccio.
News 2 contacted Soap Stories, Adore Cosmetics, and Tresor Rare for comment and has not heard back.
If you have had an experience with Tresor Rare, Soap Stories, Adore Cosmetics, and Resveralife, click here to contact the investigators.