Soap nut (soap berry) scams, cons, plus common marketing & sales tricks are explained for consumers. Wise consumers make happier users – and a healthier marketplace for ALL!
#1 – Caveat Emptor (buyer beware): Above and beyond any others we’ve seen, the single worst scam brought upon consumers is the infiltration of China grown soap berries into American and European markets. Not only does the seller make a long list of false and deceptive claims, use phony and misleading pictures, harass those who question their claims, does not disclose contact information for inquiries – they have been found guilty of violating USDA National Organic Federal laws.
Adjacent pictures are known images currently being used. These images may help you identify soap berries from China.
MANY false, misleading, unsupported and unsubstantiated claims are made by sellers of Chinese soapberries. From their initial appearance on the market in 2012 through late 2013 they were advertised and sold as USDA Certified Organic. This was NEVER TRUE – as with most of their claims. Since entering the market they’ve employed cagey and slippery tactics making them difficult to pin down. They were finally “busted” by enforcement agents after a 6-month long investigation for violating federal regulations of the National Organic Program of US Department of Agriculture. The seller’s e-commerce site was shut down. Only a few third-party sales venues remain.
Albeit equally false and/or exaggerated, misleading claims and images continue being used, they are difficult to legally pursue, prosecute, or even simply discredit due to crafty wording and being more subjective in nature. Deception doesn’t mandate a legal conclusion, so consumers must make their own decisions.
US Department of Agriculture enforcement agents completed their investigation of the seller on 1-23-14. It was concluded that they had been operating in violation of National Organic Program regulations for approximately a year. To this day, no business license has ever been located for the Greenville, South Carolina based operation.
Presently new claims of being certified organic in China are made. This has not been verified, and no proof has been presented. Most readers will already suspect that such a claim would be unreliable. Simply Google up “organic fraud from China” for plenty of reading.
Finding and contacting the seller is now nearly impossible. They are like a ghost. By restricting selling to third-party e-commerce sites, that enables them to both operate without proper business licensing, plus distances them from consumer legal claims and product liability. Put simply, it the easy way to “fly-by-night” and disappear when trouble arises.
Never underestimate the cleverness of such a seller. They will even buy their own products to review them positively, while typically bashing the legitimate sellers. Shown are actual images and comments posted online by both the seller and associates of the retailer of China soap berries. As our regular readers and any experienced user will see, the images are totally bogus. They are meant solely to be deceptive and misleading. I’m not going to speculate much about them, but these images shown are exactly as they appear online. The intention can’t be more obvious. Only comany names have been deleted. Points:
1) Color is an indicator of age – not saponin content. They are yellow/golden when freshly harvested, and turn dark over time. The dark ones look typical for berries late in the season.
2) The “pale, stale” berries look to me like berries that have been used and are ready for composting. God only knows where they came from or what was done… I’ve seen lots of ugly soap nuts, but these take the cake. No legitimate seller would ever sell anything like them.
Another reason these are mainly sold via third-party sales sites is price advantage. As with most goods from China, soap berries are cheap on the international market. (Few want them.) Third-party shoppers often are inexperienced and/or purely price shopping. Such are the prey for sellers like this one. Many newbies haven’t read SoapNuts.pro, or even visited the web sites of high quality brands. Many newbies still think a soap nut is just a soap nut, and are easily fooled. Hence, third-party sites are the ideal venue to sell poor quality, low cost goods. It’s doubtful that I need to remind many of their buyer’s remorse after purchasing that seemingly great deal on eBay. Right?
However, the truly insidious part of the China-grown soap berry story is the serious health and contagion issues. It’s one thing to buy a cheap part or gadget made in China that falls apart or breaks in the first week, or a counterfeit Super Bowl T-shirt, but it’s another thing entirely when our health enters the equation. A case in point recently in the news: “Forever 21, Charlotte Russe and Wet Seal caught in the act of selling accessories contaminated with heavy metals (i.e., lead). … Investigations into the matter started after a Chinese whistleblower tipped attorneys for the Center for Environmental Health…of levels more than 20 times above the safety standard.” (Courtesy of article by EcoSalon)
If we can’t even trust basic “hard goods” from China being safe from contamination, the idea of our exposure to agricultural products grown in China is a nightmare.
Soap nuts from China have reportedly been very wet, gummy, and dark red to black in color. “Slimy”, as put by one reader. Also, “gross”, as described by a verified online buyer. However, the characteristic are promoted as a benefit or feature in some way or another. The creative and imaginative sales pitch is really quite amazing at times.
Don’t get hung up on the color for it is more to do with their age – not origin, and color changes with time. Being very moist has nothing to do with high saponin content (as claimed). It means they are simply too wet – very high water content. Nothing more. And why? Who knows? They may have been harvested in high humidity, rained on, and/or never able to be properly sun-dried. Frankly, I don’t care why. I do care that they are being hyped up as having more saponin than others. That is utter nonsense – another untruth.
The potential for both chemical and biological contamination is extremely high with agricultural goods from China. If you have ever purchased such soap berries, we recommend returning them (if possible), disposing or composting them. Avoid any physical handling of them. As put by one reader, “They’re gross.” But what’s much worse is what we can’t see with the naked eye.
For more in-depth, detailed info about China-grown soap berries, their shady, convoluted entrance into the US market, plus the seller’s illegal activities and Federal violations, see the article: “China soap nuts – Just say, NO!”.
When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Soap nuts (soap berries) are a huge exception. They’re a genuine gift from Mother Nature. As best put by the Green Dot Awards in 2010, “NaturOli’s work with saponin, derived from soap nuts, is possibly the most significant green innovation in history for everyday household cleaning needs.” That about sums it up. They are for real, they are truly amazing, and they are a big part of future generations of better, safer, greener, healthier, sustainable products (from effective home cleaning needs to luxurious personal & hair care – and far beyond).
However, are there scams within the business of selling soap nuts? – Absolutely. – Such exists within all businesses. There will always be the greedy and opportunists. But we can share, learn, and help each other to be better than those. We can make Mother Nature proud.
With soap nuts, the scams out there are primarily due to a general lack of consumer knowledge and understanding about them. Whenever such a scenario exists, the market becomes ripe for creative scammers. Retailers find ways to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers. For awhile the marketers/sellers unfairly line their pockets with high profits. Consumers eventually catch on, and thankfully the situation is short lived. This whole site should help shorten the consumer’s learning curve. For the sake of honest sellers – and fellow consumers – if you realize you’ve been stung, get your money back – and speak up. Tell others. That’s how you can stop scams in their tracks.
Well, what is a “scam”? Here’s MY definition: A scam is a sales strategy that generates sales, but offers little to no possibility of delivering upon the claims made. It is a calculated strategy wherein the seller is aware that all (or the vast majority) of the buyers will not receive the product as described, or achieve the results as advertised.
Per the dictionary:
(n) a scheme for making money by dishonest means (slang)
(vt) to obtain money from somebody by dishonest means (slang)
Courtesy: Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999 Microsoft Corporation.
There’s an important difference between the dictionary’s definition and mine. And that is “dishonest” is subjective. There’s outright lies, and there’s exaggerations. There’s usually some shred of truth in even the most outrageous late-night infomercial that you laugh at and think, “How could anyone ever fall for this?” It’s that little shred of truth that allows the scam to work. I’ve seen as many as 50,000 units per month being shipped of incredulous products with ridiculous claims. Guess there’s a lot of naive people out there, and the scamming predators will prey on them for as long as they can.
The noble cause of promoting saponin (via soap nuts) as a genuinely effective safe, natural alternative to today’s toxic cleaners is prime real estate for scammers. The main scams are fueled by the consumer’s lack of knowledge. Most newcomers to saponin don’t understand how it works, what to expect, and what they should be looking for to make a good decision about what to buy. The scams involving totally false claims (the outright lies) are an effort to make them sound good (i.e., better than other brands in quality or value). Some sellers must figure they are so small that nobody will ever bust them for their false claims – and they’re probably right. In a nutshell, here’s a quick list of the most prevalent scams:
#2 – OVERCHARGING. – Typically through exaggerating amounts via the “number of LOADS”.
Hands down, this is the most common “scam” due to its sheer simplicity to implement, yet maintaining highly vague, elusive and deceptive tactics. Typically a seller or brand utilizing this tactic isn’t even held accountable due of the amount of time that passes. They eventually lose customers, but profit greatly for awhile – that’s part of the plan.
Sometimes it’s hard to even find a product’s weight. This weight vs. loads issue is discussed frequently on this site, so I won’t go into great detail again. See the “12 Tips on How to Buy Soap Nuts”. More info can be found there, plus in the “FAQ”, “Common Problems”, and elsewhere. But, here I want to provide you with a couple representative cases – and current examples – that you can easily find and study for yourself. There’s many others out there, too. Some have some minor twists to them, but their core strategies and techniques are always the same.
Example 1) I recently found a newer brand on Amazon (starting around August, 2013) claiming that a small 100 gram (3.5 ounces) bag will wash “up to 100 loads”. – Not a chance. And note that it takes some looking to find the weight (of course). The “net of the net” is outrageous overcharging, and it’s been going on for months. In this case, the brand’s “SALE” price is $12.57 per bag. That equates to almost $60 per pound! (Or over $126.00 per kilo. – Wow!) They’re even sold in cheap plastic bags. It’s humorous that they suggest buying TWO to save shipping costs that also would be added to the staggering sum. (Amazon has free shipping options if over $25. That’s probably how they came up with the odd $12.57 price. Buying two would put it slightly above the $25 threshold.) Nothing gives reason to question the quality of the actual soap berries, but for that pricing they should be gold-plated. Need I say more?
I cannot emphasize this enough: If you want the best value for your money, don’t pay attention to claims about “loads”. Don’t listen to the sales hype, look for the important particulars, and then get to the product’s NET weight. When you see any company selling by LOADS alone, it should immediately throw up a big caution sign for you. Whenever the weight is hard to find, or ambiguously stated, that’s a darn good clue that something is amiss with the product.
Example 2) This is another perfect example of the stuff I commonly see happening – and obviously 26 eBay shoppers actually fell for this one. I found it this month (November, 2013): It’s simply called “Eco Nuts Soap Nuts”. Here’s a link – if it’s still there: Item # 300666754965. Just search for it by name if gone. It’s a listing from some small seller of various stuff that I’ve never heard of ( seller called footprintstore ). The following is quoted verbatim – and virtually the entire description, with a picture of a “360 Load” box for $35.99:
“Smaller than your average detergent bottle! *Super Saver* at 9 cents per load. By buying this box, you are stopping a huge plastic bottle from ever making it to a landfill. With this product you’ll receive three reusable wash bags, instructions, and enough Eco Nuts™ for approximately 360 loads (also available in 10 and 100 load models).”
I know that it’s a 16-oz size box because it shows the weight on the box in the picture (in small print). Everything else is scripted in terms of “loads”. Given our conservative, but reliable, “10 loads per ounce” rule-of-thumb that we use on SoapNuts.pro, that “9 cents per load” should be more like 22 – 23 cents per load. Do the math, folks. That’s more than DOUBLE the claimed price “per load”.
This is important, so just in case that nonsense slipped past you, I’m going to repeat it one more time: “…and enough Eco Nuts™ for approximately 360 loads.” Seriously? “Enough” was enough for those 26 people to shell out 36 bucks for laundry detergent. I will assume that the buyers were newbies, for you can get that brand cheaper almost anywhere if you shop online for a few minutes. Pretty amazing…
Let’s look at this another way: We have someone asking for our money, and telling us our cost will be “9-cents per load”. Now let’s be gracious, and give them a 25% margin for error – our formula is admittedly conservative. Fair enough? So, let’s give them 11-12 cents “per load”. Got that?
Now let’s use another 25% margin for error, and say we somehow got 270 loads from that box (remembering 160 is more realistic). Now 270 loads x 11.5 cents “per load” would equal $31 (not $36). Cutting ALL the slack I can reasonably muster up maintaining any sense of reality – the price is still too high.
I know this can be a bit of a brain teaser. It’s easy to trip over the numbers when you’re working with a new product. I believe that’s exactly why some sellers persist in using “Loads” as their primary yardstick when selling. The seller has nothing to lose – until the buyers wise up. However you certainly do during your learning curve – your money.
In my college days I studied a lot of accounting and math. What’s relevant and sticks with me in this scenario are two issues: 1) Variables. 2) Illogical comparisons. Put those together – and you’ve got a mess on your hands. Only a slick marketing professor would see the shrewdness in it.
So, keep it simple. Use only weights and prices. Shop wisely. Use your head – like you do at the grocery store where they make it so easy for us these days. Many overpriced soap nuts retailers won’t make it easy like that for you – that’s their whole game. But it takes little effort on your part IF you tune out all their noise:
– Find the “NET” weight (not shipping weight).
– Be sure you’re comparing comparable quality.
– Factor in seeds at 2X net weight if applicable.
– THEN compare prices and decide. The seller’s reputation, their mission, their service level, and their offerings are up to you to value. Those are the only subjective issues to consider. Everything else is a matter of getting the accurate and factual information.
If you do this, odds are that you’re going to be happy, and get what you pay for. – It’s your money. Spend it wisely.
#3 – Claiming “Certified Organic” and “Fair Trade” certified.
There are many sellers who make these claims, and they don’t check out. It’s best to verify a company’s USDA Certified Organic status yourself through the US Department of Agriculture “National Organic Program”. You can request a certificate from the seller, but they are easily forged, hence that’s far from foolproof. The best way to check if a seller is a genuine verified USDA Organic handler/processor, search the NOP database. Use the pull down menus to select the country (United States of America / USA), leave all others as “ALL”, then just type in the company name under “OPERATIONS” (it will attempt to find and autofill the full company name for you) – and just hit enter. If genuine, their info will pop right up. The “+” sign on left gives you more info. ZERO results means ZERO certification. See NOP verification example below (yellow highlights are mine for your convenience). I’m currently working on a way to validate Fair Trade (a bit more difficult because of different countries). If from India, then it’s a safe bet. India has strictly enforced labor laws.
#4 – Overselling and omitting vital information.
In the post on “Common Problems Using Soap Nuts” I address overly high expectations as a major problem. This is entirely the seller’s fault. Way too many sellers overstate what saponin will do. Saponin alone does not remove all stains. There are no chemical whitening agents nor optical brighteners in saponin. Be reasonable in your expectations, and don’t believe all the hype. Do your homework, and use your head. I cover these issues in many different posts. And just one last time: Don’t buy soap nuts with seeds. If not specifically mentioned, they probably are not de-seeded. If for whatever reason, you do want to buy soap nuts with seeds, you should pay about half as much as the price of de-seeded.
#5 – Inflated or bogus Reviews, Likes, Fans, Followers, etc.
Quantity and quality are very different things – and there’s little safety in numbers alone – especially when it comes to online sales and social media. In this digital age, it’s difficult to trust anything online. And the wiser we get, the more clever the scammers become. But, at least we can try to stay on top of the game. We work hard for our money. Let’s spend it prudently. Here’s just a few extra points to make note of:
a) Businesses can cheaply purchase “likes” for their Facebook page via a plethora of schemes. It seems crazy as to why a company would do this, but I guess it’s to make the company appear far more popular than they actually are. – There’s one US brand “celebrating” their “achievement” of over 20,000 “likes”. – But the joke (on you) that’s NOT mentioned is that most are from Bangladesh and other obscure locations in Asia! You can verify this for yourself if you simply drill down beyond the main Facebook pages. Few ever do that, so few discover the real truth. (BTW: This same company closely monitors posts. If determined unfavorable, embarrassing, or too revealing for them, they delete them. I know many who have been “blocked”, myself included, after posing a tough question.) I find such behavior very deceptive and scammy, not to mention unprofessional and downright pathetic.
Regarding all the bogus “likes”, this is reminiscent of companies buying bogus web site back-links to increase Google’s site rankings. Nowadays, Google penalizes web sites with lots of irrelevant or dead-end back-links. Odds are that the Social Media (SM) companies will follow suite in the future. The Social Networks are already beginning to feel the heat due to abuse and fraud. The Internet “giants” want our experiences to be good ones. They need us to trust them. Trust in the Internet and cyberspace are as imperative as the technology itself. Given exponential expansion and change, with rapidly growing public awareness and scrutiny – it’s now only a matter of time for some thorough house cleaning.
b) Some obscure sellers on retail web sites such as Amazon may have items with lots of “Product Reviews” plus very high “Star Ratings”. Many are genuine. Some are bogus. You can easily check the validity of these reviews by noting the timeframes in which they were posted, and if the reviews are “Verified Purchases”. It usually becomes clear pretty quickly if the reviews are trustworthy. And check the seller’s “Feedback”. There’s an important distinction between “Reviews” and “Feedback”. Feedback is about the seller – NOT the product. You may have a great product, but an awful seller. Not good. Click on the seller’s link to view their feedback (“Customer Satisfaction Ratio”). Just keep in mind that the seller with the lowest price often becomes a “featured” seller. Again, not good. Expect to see Amazon making changes to their current system. They recognize the glitches, and they care greatly about our satisfaction.
c) When buying on the Internet from a business, you should be able to find the company’s name, address, email and phone number. In addition if desired, you should be able to obtain and verify a seller’s business license with the state in which they are located. That’s not much to ask for – and can be quite important (especially if bigger bucks are involved).
Bottom line: Ethical, reputable companies of integrity don’t play games, but YOU have to be the judge. Look closely and deeply – with clarity. I’ve uncovered and seen so much crud over the years that’s wrong and unethical, I’ve grown to always be suspicious. (It’s sad to need to feel that way.) When unclear – ask questions. And scrutinize the answers. Don’t get lost in the fog and smokescreens of the scammers. Be smarter than they are.