In 2006 and 2007 the Finnish Consumer Agency has received numerous complaints about the distance selling of natural products. Companies have used questionable practices and violated the law. The Consumer Agency has issued guidelines that review the basic rules concerning marketing and distance selling in this field.
The Consumer Agency has received positive feedback from businesses concerning the measures it has taken in the natural products field, which shows that the guidelines were clearly needed. Businesses have considered it important for the credibility and development of the whole field that wayward companies be cautioned and rules clarified.
The most problematic case involved a company that used misleading marketing to lure consumers into placing a one-year standing order, which the company then refused to cancel. After ordering a sample costing €29.90 consumers were astonished to find themselves tied to a standing order and facing a total price amounting to hundreds of euros. When consumers wanted to cancel and refused to pay, the company sent bills to a collection agency.
Among other things the Consumer Agency has received complaints about the following, among other things:
- being sent unordered products
- being given incomplete and misleading marketing information
- being tied to a standing order or fixed-duration order after ordering a sample
- being tied to a standing order on the basis of a sample, drawing, contest or trial
- not being told the whole price of a sample, including mailing costs
- not being able to cancel an order
- poor customer service
- unjustified debt collection.
In addition to the natural products field, the Consumer Agency reminded businesses selling beauty products and lingerie of marketing rules. Half of the companies that were contacted said they already comply with the guidelines or will bring their practices in line with requirements. The Consumer Agency will take measures to see that the remaining companies agree to abide by rules.
Some firms selling natural products are based outside Finland and do not even have an office in Finland. Finnish authorities' possibilities to intervene in their activities are therefore limited. The Regulation on consumer protection cooperation, which came into force at the end of 2005, provides new tools to improve cross-border cooperation, however.