An emerging trend in online consumer complaints

Aug 25, 2011 2:37pm

By Jeremy Gin, CEO, SiteJabber

On SiteJabber, we see a range of positive and negative consumer reviews of online businesses. Negative reviews range from complaints of outright fraud to lousy customer service. However, over the last year, a trend has emerged in these complaints: consumers are being increasingly victimized by online businesses that aggressively market their services as one thing but bury in the fine print their actual services, which are far less desirable.  

The following are examples of heavily marketed services and the *actual* services that are provided and buried in the fine print:

Penny auctions 

Marketed as: Fun social shopping for deals! 

Reality: Shady gambling with uncertain odds

example, more info

Weight loss products

Marketed as: Risk-free new weight loss product! 100% money back satisfaction guarantee!

Reality: Pay exorbitant shipping and handling costs for “free sample” and unknowingly enroll in recurring credit card billing that is non-refundable if you forget to cancel. 

example, more info

Daily deals

Market as: Amazing limited-time deals!   

Reality: Coupons with tightly restricted terms, as to when and how they can be used, buried in the fine print. Many deals appear not to be closely vetted by the daily deal company. Refunds are hard to come by and customer service is negligible. Also many deals go unused which is an additional hidden cost to consumers. 

examplemore info

The online businesses that make the decision to engage in such deceptive practices are implicitly boosting sales in the short-term at the cost of customer satisfaction and long-term brand loyalty. Owners of these types of sites are not so bold as scam artists who merely steal money and never return emails. But instead such sites often respond to complaints by pointing to the terms of service and essentially saying, "Sorry, you agreed to it. No refunds." 

It’s not to say it’s impossible to find a good bargain on a daily deals site—you can and in many ways that can be good for consumers--however, it should be recognized that marketers online are becoming increasingly misleading and aggressive in the way they sell products and services. As a result, it is now more than ever incumbent on consumers to do their research on online businesses—to read the fine print as well as reviews--before they buy. 

Jeremy Gin is the chief executive officer and co-founder of SiteJabber a consumer protection service which helps the public avoid fraudulent websites and find good sites. Consumers use SiteJabber to research unfamiliar websites, as well as read and write reviews of online businesses. SiteJabber is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation and was named one of the top 100 websites of 2010 by PC Magazine.