Stoneridge Shopping Center, a shopping mecca for generations of Livermore Valley residents, is losing its luster for some patrons.
I met with two ladies who are longtime Stoneridge shoppers, Rachel McElhinney of Pleasanton and Diane Ries Keller, formerly of Pleasanton now living in Livermore. They shared their experiences and concerns with the kiosk operated by Vine Vera, an Israeli-based company that sells skin care products. It's located near Macy's where the mall is fairly narrow so shoppers are readily available to their salespeople.
Typical complaints on the internet and from the two local ladies are the very aggressive sales tactics used by the staff that typically involve persuading a shopper to try free sample and then holding on (literally and figuratively) to the person and striving to upsell them with a variety of expensive products.
Rachel shared some internet sites that were full of complaints about the company. One real sticking point is a no-refund policy. That coupled with high-pressure sales tactics rubs many consumers the wrong way. The company became such a problem in New Zealand malls that major operator Westfield kicked them out across the country.
She believes the salespeople target older people and described them as aggressive as panhandlers. Before reaching out to me, she had brought the matter to the mall management's attention and received a $50 gift card.
In one of her emails to mall management, Rachel wrote, "I attended a Women's Bible Study meeting last week and mentioned my experience at Stoneridge Mall. Every one of the women had a similar story of being harassed. The next day I got my hair cut and again I brought up my experience at the mall. All of the women and men at the salon had been assaulted by these vendors who won't take NO for an answer.
"Warnings and fines have not curtailed the harassment at Stoneridge Mall.
"It has gone on for years. I think Simon Co. has a responsibility to remedy this situation quickly. It is a disservice to shoppers, and to other stores, as it drives people away from the mall. Every time I've been harassed, I've cut my shopping short and returned home. It's easier to shop online and avoid being hassled by the vendors who are way out of line."
When I reached out to mall management to discuss the issue, the Stoneridge public relations agency returned my call and asked that I refer Rachel to them so they could look into the matter. They had no further comment. She was taken aback at the request to contact management, something she had done by email and by phone several times this year.
Diane's story, which she wrote in her book "A Wife's Caregiver Saga: Facing Frontotemporal Dementia," describes a 2012 incident with her late husband before he disease worsened. Kevin wanted to go Christmas shopping so they went to Stoneridge with plans to meet up after an hour. He didn't show up. With the help of a friend, she found him at the cosmetics booth with several bags.
Upon returning home, she looked in the bags and was astonished to find many receipts totaling more than $7,000. When she went back to return the cosmetics the next day, she was told "no refunds." The saleswoman, as Diane wrote, screamed at her.
Diane then had her second episode of temporary global amnesia and had to be hospitalized. After she was released, with the help of the mall manager, she received a refund for all the items other than the $175 shaving cream because their dog chewed the box. The hospital bill was as much as the refund.
What would concern me, if I were Stoneridge management, was Rachel's comment that the buzz in several of her women's groups they were "all going to Walnut Creek" now that Broadway Plaza has completed its renovations.
Driving about an hour round-trip to avoid the local mall is sending a powerful message to the management -- as is Rachel's comment about online shopping.