DAYTON — For decades, people have shopped with individuals at home parties where the host or hostess is selling anything from makeup to jewelry to cookware to cleaning products. The products hawked at these parties vary. But, technology has taken these parties out of the living room onto computer screens. Social media has become a popular medium for these sales pitches. One of the trending online sales pitches are called pearl parties.
Pearl parties are often conducted on Facebook and the seller conducts live videos involving the pearls for sale. At the parties, consumers purchase oysters, which the sellers shuck for them. The sellers then ship the pearls to buyers after the sellers “appraise” them. Many consumers report spending outrageous amounts for pearls and jewelry at the online parties and find out their purchased products aren’t valued anywhere near the purchase price.
Research has found most of the pearls sold at these pearl parties are freshwater cultured dyed pearls. They are not salt water or Akoya pearls (Akoya is a specific type of oyster found in Japan or China). Pearl farms in China implant an irritant into the mollusk. They then place these mollusks back in freshwater where the mollusks form pearls. The pearls are harvested, cleaned and dyed. Then, they are sold to the vendor in either loose form or placed into a completely different mollusk. The pearl party host can then choose what they buy. Most of the hosts know exactly what color they are getting. They usually mix the oysters in a container so they don’t know exactly what color they will open, adding excitement to the online experience.
BBB serving Dayton/Miami Valley recently heard from a consumer involved in a pearl party. The seller promoted her pearl parties on a Facebook business page and a Web site. BBB investigated the opportunity and found the following:
• Web site is full of grammar errors
• No way to contact the business if something went wrong, except for a phone number, e-mail address and Facebook page listed on the Web site. There is no physical address listed.
• Buyers are only able to purchase items online
• Return policy only offered store credit
• Web site was created only about a year ago by a company that keeps the owners’ names private
• Company isn’t registered with the Ohio Secretary of State
BBB has sent two letters and an e-mail to the business requesting more information, however to date there has been no response.
John North, president & CEO of BBB serving Dayton/Miami Valley, says, “Before participating in an online pearl party, do your research. Know which type of pearls are being offered. This is important because natural pearls are quite rare while cultivated pearls undergo a manual process using a substance that speeds up the pearl formation. In addition, find out if the pearls being offered are freshwater pearls grown in mussels living in rivers and lakes often in China or if they are saltwater pearls grown in oysters in the ocean.”
John continues, “According the Federal Trade Commission, pearl advertisements need to distinguish whether the pearl is cultured or imitation. If they are cultured, advertisers need to disclose the type of cultured (examples: cultured freshwater pearls, South Sea cultured pearls or Akoya cultured pearls). Advertisers also need to clarify if pearls are natural or not.”
BBB also offers the following tips:
• Ask questions, such as who are the vendors you buy from, where do the vendors obtain the pearls from, what irritant do they use, are these harmful to pets or yourself.
• Be sure any links used to submit your personal information or to transmit payment are secure.
• Find out about the return policy and whether or not all sales are final.
• Ask if there are any guarantees and, if so, get them in writing.
• Use caution if the host isn’t transparent about the business practices.
BBB is always available to assist with your business decisions. Visit bbb.org or call (937) 222-5825 or (800) 776-5301 to get lists of companies in specific industries and Business Profiles on companies you’re considering doing business with.