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[September 2016]

Health food mail order business which does not properly indicate that regular purchase is required

The following case is about a trouble with a health food mail order business. A consumer intended to buy just once for trial, but actually a regular purchase contract was concluded. Although the consumer requested cancellation, it was not accepted by the business.

Details of the inquiry

When I was browsing the Internet, I found a health food advertisement stating "Effective for slimming and beauty" and "500 yen for the first trial". I ordered one box of the health food via smartphone. A bill enclosed with the delivered product indicated "Regular purchase. As for the second and the following purchases, you will be charged 4,000 yen per box. You cannot cancel the contract before you continuously purchase five times or more".

I didn't know such a condition when I ordered. I felt sick after drinking the product, so I informed the business that I didn't need the second and subsequent deliveries. However, the business did not accept it, saying "We cannot accept your request for cancellation. The website indicates that it is for regular purchase". When I accessed the website again, I saw the words "regular purchase" in small letters at the bottom of the screen.

The business also said "Your purchase can be treated as a one-off order. In this case, you will be charged 5,000 yen, a regular price for one box". I am dissatisfied with the reply. I ordered it for trial because it was 500 yen.

While negotiating with the business, I received the second delivery.

(woman in her 40s, salary earner)

Summarized outcome

Recently troubles similar to the above are on the rise. Specifically, consumers saw a health food advertisement on a website or SNS purporting "Good for health", "Effective for dieting", etc. and bought health food at a price lower than a normal price. These consumers intended to buy just once for trial, but actually a regular purchase contract was concluded.

The National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan (hereinafter called "NCAC") requested the health food mail order business to take the following measures.

(1) Easy-to-read terms and conditions

The website indicates that regular purchase is required and that cancellation is not accepted within the regular purchase period, but the information is written in small letters and not easy to read. These texts should be reader-friendly.

(2) To add a cancellation form to the website, accept cancellation via email, etc.

The business accepts cancellation requests and inquiries only via telephone. The line is very busy, and it is difficult for consumers to get through. Some consumers received the second delivery before contacting the business. The business should take corrective measures, like adding a cancellation form to the website, accepting cancellation via email, etc.

(3) Flexible solution

The inquirer wanted to cancel the contract because she felt sick after having the health food. However, the business insisted "Regular purchase has been a condition for the contract". The business should take a flexible solution in such a case.

Later, the business replied as follows:

  • We will modify advertisements for all of our products to clearly show that regular purchase is required and will add a checkbox to each order input screen on our website and websites of related companies so that consumers can notice that it is a regular purchase contract before placing an order.
  • The line is still busy. From now on, if consumers contact us via email or facsimile, we will contact them by return. We have added an inquiry form to our website.
  • We will accept requests for cancellation due to worsening health, including this case, regardless of causal relationship. In this case, we will only charge for the initial delivery received by the inquirer, even within the regular purchase period. (We will accept product returns in case of unopened products.)

Then, NCAC concluded the consultation.


Difficult to notice that it is for regular purchase and that it is not cancelable

Websites which often cause consumer troubles including the above-mentioned website highlight advertising phrases like "XX yen for trial", "XX yen for the initial order", "Only the shipping cost will be charged", etc., while information that regular purchase is required is sometimes written in smaller letters or shown on a page different from an order input page. Therefore, many consumers intended to buy just once, without noticing that regular purchase was required for the contract. They found out that a regular purchase contract had been concluded when they received the second delivery next month or later.

Most of these businesses decline requests for cancellation, saying "We cannot cancel the contract right away because regular purchase has been required for the contract". Even if an advertisement indicates that cancellation during the regular purchase period is not accepted, such information is sometimes written in small letters or shown on a page different from an order input page, which is not reader-friendly.

Although a consumer wants to cancel the contract intending to pay only the initial delivery price (e.g. 100 yen, 500 yen) and requests for cancellation saying "I didn't place a regular purchase order", mostly a normal price (approximately from 3,000 yen to 10,000 yen) will be charged. These kinds of advertisements seldom describe conditions for cancellation.

It was often reported that consumers did not get through to businesses although they telephoned many times. In some cases, a consumer sent an email to the business, but the business did not accept it replying "Cancellation can only be accepted via telephone".

In case of a contract with an overseas business, cancellation may be more difficult. Some consumers reported "I cannot communicate with the business because of language barrier", "I requested cancellation via email, but there is no reply", etc.

Check points before placing an order

Before placing an order, consumers need to check whether or not contract details and cancellation conditions are written on the advertisement. If so, it is essential to read them carefully and consider if he/she should enter into a contract.

Specifically, it is necessary to confirm the following points before placing an order.

  • If regular purchase is required
  • If it is possible to cancel the contract during the regular purchase period
  • How and where to request cancellation (e.g. telephone, email)

Recently, there have been cases where consumers placed an order via smartphone and couldn't see small letters very well. Special attention is necessary when ordering via smartphone.