About a year and a half ago we let our Better Business Bureau (BBB) membership expire. We had been members since 2000, and were some of the earliest members of their “BBBOnline” program that sought to separate the better businesses from the scams that are so much a part of online life. At the time we joined, we paid $310 to join the BBB itself and another $225 for the BBBOnline program.
From the beginning, it was clear that the BBB was just a consumer con-job. From the fact that it has absolutely no power nor willingness to involve itself in resolving disputes, to the minimal requirements it places on its members, to the shoddy paper membership certificate it sends you to “display proudly”, the BBB is little more than an organization that shakes down businesses for $350+/year with vague offers of increased credibility while offering those businesses and the consumers whose interests it claims to represent little in return.
Now, ABC News is reporting here and here that the BBB is little more than a pay-to-play scam, where the terrorist organization Hamas received an A-minus rating, while Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants get F’s. The difference? Hamas (or at least, a blogger claiming to be Hamas) pays their dues. Wolfgang Puck does not.
I went back through my records and found three complaints in the ten years or so we were members. One complaint was from a customer who had purchased from us twice. The second time he claimed to be a new customer and as a result his new purchases ended up in a separate download account from his old purchases. However, when he logged in to download, he logged into the old account rather than following the login instructions in the confirmation email we sent him. This kind of thing happens fairly regularly, of course, and we’re always able to handle it through tech support. This customer, however, contacted the BBB before contacting us. Once he contacted us, of course, we resolved his problem instantly like we always do.
The second complaint was from a customer who had purchased a Bible but not the PocketBible program that was required in order to view the Bible. Again, instead of contacting us when he couldn’t view his Bible, he contacted BBB and filed a complaint. By the time we received notice of the complaint several days later, he had contacted tech support and the problem was solved within hours — all before we even received his BBB complaint.
Complaint number three was similar to the first. Customer orders a Bible but no reader. We tell him to buy the reader, which he does, but now claims the Bible is not on his download page. We log into the customer’s account, and there it is. We write back and tell him “it’s the third one from the top” and he files a complaint with the BBB. Again, problems like this happen from time to time, but we’re always able to solve them without any help from the BBB.
Unfortunately, when you look at our BBB status report, all it will tell you is that we’ve had complaints. It doesn’t say that they were all from customers who technically didn’t have a claim in the first place. It just says they were “resolved”. (Since we haven’t had any complaints in the last three years, our current report will say “no complaints”.)
My one big experience as a consumer using the Better Business Bureau was a complaint against a competitor who was advertising their software as “the only true PDA Bible study software”. I felt this claim was demonstrably false, since there were dozens of PDA Bible study programs available at the time. BBB is very particular about advertising claims. You can’t say things like “discounts up to 50% off” or even “lowest prices in town” (the latter is OK only if you can exhaustively demonstrate that it’s true). So I felt the claim that this company had the “only” Bible software was simply false, and since they were BBB members, the BBB should hold them responsible for their clearly false advertising.
The BBB forwarded my complaint to the company, and the company replied that their software contained Greek and Hebrew lexicons, and therefore was the only true Bible study software for PDAs. I wrote back with a list of six Bible programs that included Greek and Hebrew lexicons for the same mobile platforms as this competitor supported. That was the end of the discussion. The BBB didn’t do anything against the company even after an advertising review. The whole issue was simply dropped.
In 2004 we did a customer survey. We selected several hundred people who had purchased within the last week or two and presented them with a list of certifications like “Better Business Bureau”, “BizRate”, “Verisign”, “Verified by Visa”, “Good Housekeeping”, etc. We asked how important each of these were, and if any of them were instrumental in their decision to purchase from us. Here are the top four, in order from most important to least important:
- Verified by Visa
- BBB Online
Ironically, at the time, neither the Verisign nor Verified by Visa logos appeared on our site yet customers told us the appearance of those logos is what changed their mind about ordering products from us. (The exact question was: “I was uncertain about ordering from Laridian until I saw this certification.”) More importantly, these imaginary logos were more important (by a factor of almost 2) than the BBB certification that was actually on the site!
So a year and a half ago it seemed abundantly clear that (1) very few people were actually making use of BBB; (2) those who did make use of it were actually making baseless claims that were solved by tech support without help from BBB; (3) all claims, regardless of how specious, were counted against us regardless of their resolution; and (4) customers weren’t relying nearly as much on the BBB certification logo as they were on certifications which they only imagined seeing on our site. We explained all this to our BBB rep and told them we’d be willing to sign up for another year for $30 instead of $365. (We figured it might result in one or two more sales over the course of a year, so $30 seemed more than fair.) They declined our generous offer so we let our membership expire.
We hesitated to mention publicly that we had dropped our BBB membership because we were afraid of what that might imply. But now that the facts about the BBB have finally come to light, I think it’s safe to let you know that despite our current “A” rating and being complaint-free for the last three years, we are no longer paying protection money to this particular gang.