LOS ANGELES (CN) - The Banfield Pet Hospital veterinary chain aggressively upsells unnecessary services, so the discounts it also offers "evaporate," a pet owner claims in a federal class action.
Lead plaintiff Gregory Pero sued Medical Management International dba Banfield Pet Hospital, on behalf of customers served through Banfield outlets in PetSmart stores nationwide.
PetSmart is not a named party in the complaint, though Pero notes that the company owns a minority interest in Banfield.
Candy conglomerate Mars - which makes M&Ms, Twix and Skittles candies as well as the Pedigree and Whiskas pet food brands - owns the majority stake, Pero says.
Pero says he "holds these truths to be self-evident: (a) Pet care providers should be honest about the true costs of their products and services, and (b) pet care providers should not upsell unnecessary pet care."
But the pet patriot declares that Banfield does not adhere to these self-evident truths when it comes to its "Optimum Wellness Plan," which has more than 1 million pet enrollees.
"Banfield aggressively markets, advertises and sells the plans that purport to offer deep savings and discounts for preventative pet care services and related pet care products," Pero says in the lawsuit.
"Banfield does not provide the promised savings and discounts under its plan, and Banfield upsells unnecessary pet care to its clients. This class action seeks to remedy: (a) Banfield's deceptive marketing of savings and discounts under the plan, and (b) Banfield's deceptive and coercive upselling of additional pet care products and services. Banfield's conduct violates consumer protection laws in California and nationwide."
Pero says the plan includes physical exams, vaccines and diagnostic tests for dogs and cats. More expensive plans include higher-level care, but all are tailored to puppies, kittens and adult dogs and cats.
Banfield's employees push the plans by promising discounts on other products and services, which are advertised in print and on the company website, but those savings are rarely realized, Pero claims.
"For at least the past four years, Banfield has misrepresented - and continues to misrepresent - the nature and amount of savings and discounts to be realized through the purchase and use of the wellness plan," Pero says. "In this regard, for each plan Banfield advertises a monthly payment plan that purportedly entitles clients to minimum savings off of regular costs for preventative pet care products and services plus fixed discounts on additional products and services sought by customers. Banfield, however, simply does not provide the promised savings and discounts."
He continues: "In particular, under the wellness plan Banfield promises substantial minimum savings on preventative pet care (e.g., more than $600 per year savings with the base-level dog plan, for percentage savings of more than 50 percent versus regular costs). Banfield also promises that the customer will receive an additional discount on other pet care products and services not covered under the plan (e.g., an additional 10 percent off with the base-level adult dog plan)." (Parentheses in complaint.)
Banfield charges a one-time membership fee of $49.95 in addition to monthly payments that, for an adult dog, come to nearly $32 for the cheapest plan. These costs supposedly entitle pet owners to savings with each visit or monthly, but hide what Pero calls "the warped service assumptions and inflated pricing scheme on which the purported savings and discounts are based."