The Better Business Bureau was founded in 1912 as a nonprofit organization designed to increase marketplace trust through the collection and collation of independent reviews. Currently it consists of 112 separate chapter organizations throughout the United States and Canada. Over 400,000 businesses support their endeavors vocally and publicly, too, making them the largest and most participated-in organization of their kind.
How Does It Work?
The Better Business Bureau collects complaints and reviews of local businesses in each chapter’s operating area and rates them according to a scale that takes into account the age, severity, and type of complaint, as well as any response from the company. Grades are supposed to be reassessed as information comes in, giving consumers an overview of the company’s present status and activity.
The BBB is not a consumer watchdog group or government agency, and their own information pages and blog note this. In recent years, they have come under fire for pay-to-play tactics, in which they would downgrade businesses who did not become members and smooth out complaints for those who did. Critics maintain that the organization’s structure retains built-in conflicts of interest.
Better Business Bureau accreditation is billed monthly and based on the number of employees a company employs. Their base rate is currently just under $52 a month for companies with 1-10 employees and scaling from there. 11-20 employees is approximately $12 per month more, and increments scale according to that rough pattern and varying between $7 and $15 more for each new tier.
While the organization maintains the importance of return/refund policies for its members, including a blog with several articles and tips designed to aid consumers when they navigate returning merchandise to a retailer, they do not have an accessible return/refund policy with regard to accreditation. Since it is billed monthly, like a service, it needs to be cancelled if a company wishes to discontinue its relationship with the organization.
Customer Service Contact Info
The BBB website maintains a search with all of the contact information for their local chapters in a searchable format at www.bbb.org. Each listing includes mail, email, and phone contacts, as well as links to any available online complaint processing.
In recent years, the Better Business Bureau’s reputation has been severely downgraded as several media accounts in major outlets have highlighted the organization’s built-in conflicts of interest and evidence of pay-to-play in its Southland chapter came to light. Amidst allegations of Better Business Bureau scam activity, though, the national organization has disbanded the problematic chapter and moved to become more transparent.
Despite these attempts to rein in problems, the BBB must still contend with critics’ assertions that they went too long without being noticed and with accusations that individual chapters are still working to make complaints go away for members in an opaque and uneven way. Since the Better Business Bureau is a nonprofit trade group and not a governing body, there is little oversight.
- Pressure sales tactics to push accredidation
- Pay-to-play approach favors higher-revenue businesses
- Cover-up of major issues
Consumers should take the revelations about the BBB’s conduct and treatment of members into account before trusting their ratings, even if the organization has historically worked to prevent fraud. For businesses considering accreditation, it is worth weighing the historic reputation against the possible blowback that might come from associating with an organization accused of creating false consumer confidence through the manipulation of complaints and reviews.
Final Verdict: The BBB is a scam that masquerades as a trustworthy source.