ACCC: portrait business misleading and deceptive

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has instituted proceedings in the Federal Court against ‘pop-up’ portrait business Lifestyle Photographers Pty Ltd, trading as Expression Sessions.

Expressions Sessions operates out of shopping centres in both Australia and New Zealand and a web search quickly indicates there are unhappy clients on both sides of the Tasman. The company principal is Jesse Baravykas (pictured right) with the business headquartered in the outer northern Sydney suburb of Castle Hill.

The ACCC alleges that Expression Sessions made false or misleading representations and engaged in misleading or deceptive and unconscionable conduct when selling photography products.

‘The conduct of concern allegedly targeted some of the most vulnerable groups in the Australian community, including customers who were in considerable financial distress or who had a limited capacity to understand commercial contracts,’ ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.

Between 2012 and 2014, Expression Sessions operated from pop-up stores and kiosks in shopping centres in all states and territories in Australia (perhaps filling the gap in the market left when PixiFoto abandoned staff and customers in Australia.) The company sells photography packages, which can include photographic prints, canvases, glass tiles and key rings.

The ACCC alleges that Expression Sessions offered prospective customers a free photo shoot or free photographs, and in the course of doing so, represented that:
– they would be able to receive photographs of their children at no cost; and
– they would be able to receive photographs of their children without entering into a contract.

It is alleged that these representations were false or misleading because customers were not able to receive free photographs, and customers were required to enter into a contract with Expression Sessions to purchase photographs.

It is also alleged that these representations induced customers to participate in a photo shoot, and that Expression Sessions failed to clearly advise its customers of the total price of their photographic products at the time of entering into the contract.

In a New Zealand interactions with Expression Sessions reported on a TV NZ news program, the contract was initially for $6000! Expression Sessions spruikers encourage customers to agree to a small weekly or monthly repayment which can continue on for years.

However in the NZ example there were no disclosure documents, no cooling off period and a copy of the credit agreement was not supplied to the customer.

Sarah Court: Concern that Expression Sessions was targetting Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders.

ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court: Concern that Expression Sessions was targetting Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders.

‘It is important that businesses are upfront with consumers and clearly explain the price of the goods and services they are offering. Consumers need to be able to fully understand what they are agreeing to before making a decision to enter into a contract’, Ms Court said.

‘The ACCC is currently prioritising consumer protection issues impacting on vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers, with a particular focus on Indigenous consumers.’

‘Expression Sessions’ customers were in many cases Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander or were financially disadvantaged. The ACCC claims that the sales method used by Expression Sessions, as well as the use of unfair tactics and undue pressure and the failure to provide clear and accurate information about its contractual terms, was unconscionable.’

The ACCC is seeking declarations, injunctions, redress for affected consumers, pecuniary penalties, corrective notices, the implementation of a consumer law compliance program and costs.

The matter has been filed in the Federal Court’s Sydney Registry. The first Directions Hearing is set for October 8.

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