Lingerie customers who have shopped at Rihanna’s intimate apparel brand Savage X Fenty have accused the company of deceptive marketing tactics with its Xtra VIP Membership program, according to the consumer advocacy group Truth in Advertising.
The marketing watchdog published a report Monday that criticized Savage X Fenty for not making its membership terms more prominent and went as far as to say the company has “engaged in deceptive marketing and illegal business practices” to get customers enrolled into the $49.95-a-month program without their express knowledge.
Truth in Advertising highlighted disgruntled customer reviews left on the Better Business Bureau to illustrate its point.
“I bought from this company once because of a sale, I did enjoy what I got. HOWEVER, WITHOUT MY KNOWLEDGE SAVAGEXFENTY USED MY DEBIT CARD INFORMATION TO SIGN ME UP FOR THEIR MONTHLY SUBSCRIPTION. this is a VIP package that costs $49.95 a month. I did not want or authorize the making of this account for me,” one customer wrote in a review submitted to the BBB in October.
The customer added that they did not realize they were being charged for the Xtra VIP Membership for five months and lost $250 from their account as a result. However, the same customer did admit they received a full refund after they contacted customer service for assistance. Despite the correction, the review characterized the business tactic as “shady and disgusting.”
Nine out of the 20 other reviewers on the BBB mentioned that they experienced difficulty in canceling their membership, which Truth in Advertising also noted in its report.
“I canceled my account. 4 months later they charge [sic] me again and said I was still a VIP…I have to change my bank account…” one customer complained.
Truth in Advertising included screenshots of Instagram stories and desktop views of Savage X Fenty carts that the group found deceptive. It is important to note that the screenshots do in fact mention the “Xtra VIP Xclusive” and “Savage X Fenty Monthly Membership,” but the font used is notably small or requires the customer to click a button to learn more about the program.
So it is not hard to understand how some customers who are in a rush or did not read the membership’s terms and conditions could fail to realize that proposed discounts are contingent on signing up for the program.
For example, the Savage X Short Robe retails for $82 normally, but a customer can purchase the item for $32 if they are an Xtra VIP Member – so long as they are OK with paying a monthly flat fee of $49.95 to obtain the discount.
However, instead of amounting to $81.95, which is how much it would cost if you were adding the totals of the discounted robe and membership, the $49.95 monthly fee is automatically credited to the customer. This leaves room for the customer to purchase one or more items that are valued at $17.95 without having to pay extra money.
Customers who are avid lingerie fans and update their intimate apparel or sleepwear closet regularly are most likely to benefit from these savings whereas casual shoppers may not.
Representatives from Savage X Fenty aren’t taking the allegations from Truth in Advertising lightly.
“Savage X Fenty believes it is compliant with consumer protection laws and has not received any inquiries from the FTC," a spokesperson from Savage X Fenty told FOX Business. "Savage X Fenty received this complaint from Truth in Advertising (TINA) at the same time as the press and while we wouldn’t typically issue a public response, we are because these accusations are false and based on misconceptions of our business. We are proud of our flexible membership program because it allows us to offer unparalleled quality and value to our customers.”
The spokesperson also characterized the brand’s customer feedback as “overwhelmingly positive” while citing Savage X Fenty’s Net Promoter Score of 77 and A rating with the BBB.
Additionally, the spokesperson acknowledged that the complaints submitted to the BBB amount to less than .002 percent of the brand’s consumer base.
When it comes down to the Xtra VIP Membership program, the spokesperson said Savage X Fenty’s “flexible shopping options have resonated with millions of people around the world, with more than 91 percent of members surveyed indicating they are likely to continue their membership.” For members that no longer wish to continue their membership, the spokesperson said it can be canceled “at any time online via live chat or phone 24/7.”
The statement continued with the brand’s commitment to “transparency” and providing customers “multiple disclosures of membership terms throughout the shopping experience, within advertisements, and through our ambassador engagement policies.”
“While we take all feedback seriously, we believe strongly that we are compliant with consumer protection laws,” the spokesperson added to address the allegations that Savage X Fenty is using illegal practices.
Savage X Fenty’s e-commerce partner TechStyle was another target of Truth in Advertising’s report. TechStyle is associated with the athleisure brand Fabletics, which has close ties to actress Kate Hudson and employs the same subscription model.
Truth in Advertising ran a similar report on the brand in 2015, which cited Fabletics as a deceptive advertiser as well.
“Of note, TechStyle Inc.’s co-founder and co-CEO Adam Goldenberg is no stranger to deceptive marketing or to the FTC,” Truth in Advertising wrote in a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission.
Three of TechStyle’s companies paid California regulators $1.8 million in a 2014 settlement, in which they admitted no fault.
Other TechStyle-affiliated companies paid $46.5 million that same year to the FTC for the deceptive marketing of the powder weight-loss supplement Sensa, according to Truth in Advertising.
FOX Business reached out to TechStyle about the matter but did not immediately hear back at the time of publication.
Despite how some may feel about retail companies adopting membership subscription models, it appears that more are leaning on the business tactic to build brand loyalty and profit. And it’s not just the niche apparel industry that is doing so.
Bed Bath and Beyond and Wayfair are just a few large retailers that have adopted membership programs that provide accessible discounts in exchange for an annual fee. This model is different from members-only programs that can be found in chains like BJ’s Wholesale Club, Costco and Sam’s Club.
This article has been updated to reflect that the monthly $49.95 for the Savage X Fenty's Xtra VIP membership is credited to a member's monthly purchase(s) rather than it being an additional fee.