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1 October 2020

Dodgy stairlift sales tactics to avoid

A worrying four in 10 customers report feeling pressure when buying their stairlift. Here's how you can spot and avoid questionable stairlift sales tactics.
Stairlift sales1 481495
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Joanna Pearl

Pressure selling reported widely by stairlift owners

We've surveyed stairlift customers to find out how much pressure they felt when they were being sold their stairlift. The average percentage across all companies of people reporting feeling some pressure was 44%.

The level of pressure experienced varied across companies. Some 74% of Age UK customers felt some pressure, and 16% said they felt ‘a lot of pressure’. This is significantly higher than other retailers.

The top three forms of pressure reported by Age UK customers were:

31% to pay an immediate deposit

30% to take out an extended warranty

27% to buy from Age UK and not another company

Some 55% of Companion customers said they felt pressure, as did 54% of Acorn customers and 50% of Dolphin Lifts customers.

Both Age UK and Companion sell the Handicare brand of stairlift. The sales process for each is carried out by parts of the company Handicare.

A significantly lower 15% of people who bought from an independent or authorised dealer said they felt pressure was applied.

We asked 886 stairlift owners to rate the stairlift companies they used on a variety of measures. Find out where to buy your stairlift or head to our guide to the best and worst stairlift brands.

Overall ratings for stairlift sales practice

Despite some reports of pressure being applied during the sales process, Age UK, Companion, Dolphin Lifts and Stannah were all rated good – with four stars out of five – for sales practice by customers.

Acorn was scored three stars for sales practice by its stairlift owners.

And 70% of Age UK's customers still believed they received a good deal, despite the high numbers reporting feeling at least some pressure.

So why are customers reporting feeling pressure from the company, but rating sales practice as OK or good?

This could be for a number of reasons.

First, sales practice is made up of more than feeling pressured. People will also be thinking about other aspects, such as how the sales staff dealt with them on the phone or if there were problems with their stairlift.

Owners may also expect some pressure to be put on them and therefore find it acceptable.

Or they may be balancing pressure in one area – for example, being sold an extended warranty – against a relatively pressure-free experience in another, such as feeling pressured to buy immediately.

What we're seeing is a complex picture. But what we do know is that we shouldn't regard pressure as a given. If independents can have a comparatively low percentage of people feeling pressure, it's entirely possible for this to be the case for all companies.

What sort of pressure did customers feel?

To understand why customers felt pressure, we asked people about a number of areas. The number of people who told us about each type of pressure is small, so we this can only indicate the types of practice being reported.

Of named companies, Acorn had the most people feeling pressured to take out a maintenance contract (47%) or extended warranty (36%).

They also had three in 10 of customers feeling pressured to make a quick decision (29%).

Whereas, Dolphin customers were the most likely to feel pressured to buy from that company (44%), with 28% of customers who felt some pressure feeling pressured to make a quick decision.

Past mystery shopping revealed dodgy selling

It’s interesting that all companies apart from Acorn were rated good (four stars out of five) for sales practice when there are such high reports of pressure selling.

Acorn’s three stars are an improvement on its poor two-star rating in 2018.

Which? 2019 mystery-shop

We were so concerned by reports of pressure selling in our last (2018) survey that in early 2019, we carried out a snapshot undercover investigation into the sales methods used by the UK's three largest stairlift companies: Acorn, Age UK and Stannah.

Which? mystery shoppers asked stairlift salespeople to assess their homes for a stairlift to be fitted.

Our trained researchers used hidden recorders so we could see what goes on behind closed doors.

Salespeople from one of the companies, Acorn, used sales tactics on two of three visits that we believed could be in breach of consumer laws on pressure selling.

This included salespeople making incorrect claims and badmouthing competitors, as well as asking for asking for a deposit on one visit and an immediate decision on another (Acorn denied the latter two claims).

Acorn's response

Acorn Stairlifts said it was disappointed with the findings and that they no way reflected the extremely positive feedback consistently received both from customers and its sales team.

It told us: ‘Notwithstanding our reservations about the nature of the data that Which? has obtained, we are investigating the concerns raised. Acorn will not condone or tolerate even isolated instances of individuals falling below our expected high standards of conduct.’

Our mystery shoppers saw good sales practice on all 2019 visits from Age UK and Stannah. Salespeople exerted no pressure to buy and customers were given the time they needed to make a decision.

Check your stairlift company

The bigger stairlift companies (Acorn, Age UK and Stannah) are all members of the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA). The BHTA gives examples of what it calls ‘inappropriate selling tactics’ in its code of practice. These include:

  • An unreasonably long stay for sales in the home
  • A high initial price followed by the offer of a discount (often followed by a telephone call to the 'manager')
  • A discount on the condition that the consumer agrees to the sale that day
  • Inducements to force a quick decision
  • Withholding price information until the end of the sales discussion/visit
  • Alleging limited availability of a product
  • Misrepresentation of the product, price or contract.

There are things you can do to research and prepare for a home visit so you'll know the right questions to ask and can easily see through dodgy sales practices.

Clarify your needs in advance

Research which stairlift you need and even whether a stairlift is right for you at all. In most cases, for example, good hand movement is required to operate the controls and the footrest, although there are workarounds.

Consider getting advice from an occupational therapist (OT), either through your local council's social-service department or privately through the Royal College of Occupational Therapists.

If you can try a stairlift before buying, so much the better – for example if a friend has one, or you can go to a local disabled living centre.

Find a stairlift company

Our guide to buying and installing a stairlift can give you an idea of how much you should expect to pay. The price will depend on factors such as whether your staircase is straight, curved or has turns or landings. The more complex your staircase, the more it will cost.

A stairlift is a significant purchase, so ask more than one company to visit your home to give you quotes. Factor in aftercare costs such as servicing, maintenance and emergency call-outs, and ask what’s included in the warranty.

The assessment visit

On your visit, it may be helpful to have a family member or friend with you. If you have more complex needs, you could also have your OT present.

Most visits go smoothly, but if you feel uncomfortable with any sales practice – for example, if you feel pressured – don't commit to anything on the spot. It's fine to ask the salesperson to leave if you're not happy.

The salesperson (surveyor) will give you a written quotation including the cost of installation. Make sure this includes details of aftercare costs, too. 

Complaints about dodgy stairlift selling

If you're unhappy with the way the stairlift salesperson has dealt with you, first complain to the company using its formal complaints procedure (ask it if you're not certain what this involves).

If your complaint isn't resolved to your satisfaction and the company is a BHTA member, you can make a written complaint to the BHTA by email to complaints@bhta.com or by letter to: BHTA, Suite 4.6, The Loom, 14 Gowers Walk, London, E1 8PY.

If the company is not a BHTA member, seek help from Citizens Advice on 0345 040506. 

You can buy the three main stairlift brands directly from the companies themselves, or through independent retailers or authorised dealers. If you're not sure which brand is likely to suit you best, and want to narrow down the number of sales visits you receive, visit our guide to the best stairlift brands