Door-to-door salespeople 'aggressive' and 'intimidating': poll

Chris Burger is the mayor of Parksville, B.C., which helped enact a bylaw in November 2012 prohibiting door-to-door sales

More than two thirds of Canadians say that door-to-door salespeople are aggressive, even when homeowners clearly state that they are not interested in what is being sold, a CBC poll has found.

The poll, commissioned by CBC Marketplace and surveying the attitudes of more than 1,000 people, also found that half of Canadians find door-to-door salespeople intimidating. Women were more likely to find door-knocking sales tactics aggressive and intimidating than men.

Almost a quarter of those polled say that they have purchased products or services sold door to door that they later regretted.

“They’re uninvited, and I don’t want them,” one B.C. resident told Marketplace co-host Erica Johnson. “You got a two-and-a-half-hour sales pitch and couldn’t get them out of your house,” another said.

Marketplace spoke with an expert in door-to-door sales, who reveals psychological tactics that salespeople use to get homeowners to sign. The full Marketplace investigation, Knock it Off, including five secret sales tricks that door knockers use to get people to sign, airs tonight at 8 p.m. (8:30 p.m. NT) on CBC Television.

Aggressive and fraudulent door-to-door sales have come to the attention of police and other consumer protection groups like the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Seniors are especially at risk, according to some police warnings.

“BBBs have received complaints from homeowners across North America who were subjected to high-pressure sales tactics and felt deceived by the salesperson,” a BBB press release from July states.

In July, police in Windsor, Ont., issued a warning after receiving complaints that some salespeople talked their way into homes under the guise of inspecting water heaters, then pressured people to sign agreements. In April, the RCMP issued a similar warning in Nova Scotia, warning residents of high-pressure sales tactics used to get people to sign up for medical alarm monitoring systems.

“The sales rep can sound very convincing, claiming to be representing a company that has taken over for another company,” a 2012 Halton, Ont., police warning stated. “In most cases, they will look official and attempt to gain entry into your home to look at your water heater. They will then tell you your water heater needs to be upgraded and that this is a free service.”

A 2009 Marketplace investigation found door-to-door salespeople selling natural gas and electricity contracts who mislead people about the true costs in order to secure sales. In 2011, Marketplace documented the sales tactics of a company that used misleading health threats to sell an expensive water filtration system. Another story in 2012 found that salespeople for a popular lawn care company signed homeowners up for services that they did not agree to.

Despite concern about some sales tactics, door-to-door sales are legal in most parts of the country. However, some communities are taking steps to protect people from door-to-door sales.

Parksville, B.C., a city of about 12,000 on Vancouver Island, enacted a bylaw in November 2012 prohibiting door-to-door sales. Anyone caught violating the bylaw can be fined $150 per offense.

Parksville Mayor Chris Burger said that the high proportion of seniors in his community prompted city council to act. "A full third of our population is already over the age of 65,” he said. “As our population ages, you know, we have to do those extra things as far as providing some degree of protection. Because it is about those folks and allowing them to live in their homes as long as possible and to feel safe and to feel secure,” he said.

“Those are fundamental tenets of what makes a good community and I’m happy that we’re in a position that we can step in and at least provide some assistance.”

Port Coquitlam, B.C. has also banned door-to-door sales.

Some communities in Canada require that businesses obtain a license in order to sell door to door. However, some communities more actively enforce these protections.

In Ontario, all contracts are subject to a 10-day cooling-off period, which the province is currently looking at extending.

Communities in Texas, Alabama, New York and Idaho have enacted bans or restrictions on door-to-door sales, licensing requirements or have strengthened police powers to deal with complaints. Others have enacted “no knock” registries, which operate like do-not-call lists.