SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – There are all kinds of salespeople, including the cliché, high-pressure type who can send customers out the door with bags of stuff they don’t need. Those are the claims against a shop near the Santa Fe plaza.
In this case, Santa Fe resident, Robert Harris, was charged more than $60,000 for skincare products he claims he didn’t want in the first place. So, how did that happen?
“I like to make photographs,” explained Robert Harris. He can explain in detail what it takes to capture the perfect photograph. “Like focusing the lens and figuring out from the light meter, OK, how much of the arc welding brightness of the sun we’re dealing with here? You have to play around with it to get a good exposure,” Harris explained.
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But when it comes to dealing with unfamiliar situations, or conflict, Harris has a hard time. “I was born with Asperger’s disease. It’s a type of autism,” he explained.
Particularly in social settings, Harris said, “I have a hard time. I’ve learned how to get along with people, but I have a hard time with doing that. I have trouble saying no.”
That’s important for people to understand, his family and friends say, in order to better understand what happened to him. Harris was out taking photos of the Cathedral by the Santa Fe Plaza when he says a man from a nearby shop called Urban Calm, approached him.
“You look old. We can put this gold powder under your eyes, it’ll make you look like you’re 35,’ Harris recalled one of the sales staff saying. “And I said, ‘Well, how do you know gold powder will do that because I studied a lot of chemistry in school?”
He told KRQE News 13 he was coaxed into the store and instructed to lie down, as someone applied skin cream to his face. “Oh, how it would really rejuvenate me,” Harris recalled the sales staff saying.
“And it’s like, how did you get the idea to use gold powder because gold is expensive?” Robert recalled their conversation. “Well, Cleopatra did it.”
“Well, Cleopatra was the was the queen of Egypt thousands and thousands of years ago. How do you know she did that?” Harris asked, to which hey says staff replied, ‘Oh, we just do.'”
He said he felt trapped as someone put a machine with bright lights over him, and eventually loaded up three shopping bags full of products. After about four hours, Harris said he was handed a massive bill.
He wrote a personal check for $39,275 and charged two of his credit cards more than $21,000. “My credit card wouldn’t work, it was too much money,” Harris said he handed over a second credit card when the full amount was declined on one card.
“I was trying to leave. I said I’m hungry, I want something to eat,” he said. But instead of letting him walk out of the store, he said a staffer walked over to Starbucks and bought him something to keep him there even longer.
Harris said it was stressful, and explained he felt like he had to pay to get out of there. He went home and told his wife. “And right away I said, ‘I have to call the credit card companies and say that it’s fraudulent,'” explained Harris’ wife, Mary Jo Lane.
Lane put a stop payment on the check. However, since Harris was an authorized user on their account, she said their credit card company wouldn’t refund the $21,000. Initially, Lane said the skincare shop refused to grant a refund. That’s when attorney Jerry Archuleta got involved.
Attorney negotiates refund
“When you sign the credit card receipt, you’re signing an agreement in a contract,” said Archuleta. “If I signed a contract under duress, if I’m forced to sign a contract, then the contract is invalid.”
Archuleta sent Urban Calm a letter, saying Harris will return the unopened items and negotiate a resolution. That was in August.
“They called me and they wanted a 25% restocking fee,” said Archuleta. “We negotiated back and forth.”
Then just before October, the store reimbursed Harris a little more than $18,788.94. The store kept $2,500 for a “restocking fee.”
The day KRQE News 13 interviewed Harris, sales clerks at Urban Calm were standing outside, pitching their products to people passing by. A polite tourist stopped with a group of friends said within seconds, a sales clerk was applying cream to her face.
“And then he said, ‘Let me activate you,’ so he went inside and grabbed a fan and blew it in my face, and I said ‘I gotta go,'” said Vicki Pelfrey, a tourist visiting Santa Fe from North Carolina.
“It was pretty pushy,” Pelfrey added. “I was like, “I gotta go,’ and he was like, ‘No no no.'”
KRQE News 13 tried talking to store staff. A female employee told News 13 off-camera they don’t use aggressive sales tactics, and declined to speak on camera. The employee then accused News 13 of breaking the law when she saw a news photographer getting footage of the shop from across the street.
The woman called the police, saying she was being filmed from the street without her consent. After apparently failing to make her case with a police dispatcher, the staffer flipped off KRQE News 13’s cameraman and reporter and went back inside the store.
KRQE News 13 did reach the store owner by phone. He asked how the station heard about Harris’ story, saying they’ve done nothing illegal. He declined to talk on camera or provide a statement before consulting his attorney.
In order for Harris to receive a refund, he made an agreement not to file a formal complaint with the Better Business Bureau or the Consumer Protection Program. However, Harris’ attorney says the agreement did not prevent him from sharing his story publicly.
And Harris isn’t the only one who says they’ve encountered pushy sales staff at Urban Calm in Santa Fe. “I mean, they pound, and they pound, and they pound,” said Alvin Haimowitz. “And that’s really not right.”
Haimowitz also lives in Santa Fe. He said he was coaxed into the shop before Harris’ encounter. “Here, let’s put this cream on,” Haimowitz recalled an interaction with store staff.
“And she says this cream is really unique. It’s got 24 karat gold in it.'” He too was shocked to learn the price. “A great price today of $900. And I looked at her, and I said, excuse me?”
When he told the store sales clerk he couldn’t afford $900, Haimowitz said she dropped the price for him. “OK, for you, just for you…she’s whispering, $450, a special,” he said.
“They don’t need to do business like that,” said Haimowitz.
Customers have made similar complaints of feeling trapped by high-pressure sales tactics on Google reviews and with the Better Business Bureau.
Urban Calm management sent KRQE News 13 the following statement:
Like many other businesses we advertise our products by offering samples. if the potential customer likes the samples then he can purchase the different products. Robert decided to purchase large amount of products of his own will after trying the different samples. When Robert’s wife contacted us and explain that Robert is mentally ill we immediately returned his money although it was not by our return policy – We do not offer refunds on any skin care items due to COVID-19 since we cannot resell these products, we make sure our clients are well aware of that before making a purchase. Our staff doesn’t go to any special training, it is just like any other Sales job. After investigating this case we decided to discharge the sales person involved because we believe that no client should feel like he’s “pushed” into buying something, this is just not our way. We are very happy with our decision to issue Robert a refund and we wish Robert all the best.The Management of Urban Calm