BBB Reveals America's Most Complained-About Businesses


BBB Reveals Which Businesses Get the Most ComplaintsThe Better Business Bureau just released some good news: In 2011, consumers consulted the BBB far more often than they did the year before, and they lodged fewer complaints. Surely that's a sign that consumers are learning to look before they leap with their money.

First, the stats: The BBB was consulted more than 103 million times in 2011, up 18% over 2010. That's an all-time high, by the way, over their 100-year history. Now, those are just instances of people asking the BBB for help. Complaints lodged with the BBB fell about 7%, to 927,000.

In practical terms, those numbers suggest that more Americans are being smart about their shopping, looking into businesses' reputations before engaging them.

Carrie A. Hurt, CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, which oversees 116 BBBs across North America, sees that as "terrific news." She added, "When consumers come to us first for information about businesses, they are much less likely to need our dispute resolution services later."

If you're among the ranks of those not too familiar with the BBB, here's the scoop: It compiles data on more than 4 million businesses, grading them on their responsiveness to customers, their complaint histories, legal and regulatory actions taken against them, and more. You may see the BBB logo displayed by businesses that have met the BBB Code of Business Practices. (Interested in seeing what the BBB has to say about a specific business? Look up their review here.)

Companies Getting the Most Background Checks

Dig a bit deeper into the BBB's report and a picture emerges of which sorts of business are generating the most inquiries:

  • Topping the list are roofers, with more than 3 million inquiries in 2011, up a whopping 39% over 2010.
  • In second place are general contractors, with more than 2 million inquiries and an even huger increase, at 71%.
  • The other industries in the top 10 most-checked list each generated more than a million inquiries: used-car dealers, car repair shops, plumbers, new car dealers, mortgage brokers, construction/remodeling services, heating and air conditioning, and moving companies. All sported double-digit increases in inquiries (except for moving companies, which had a modest 3% uptick).

Our Biggest Trust Issues

The BBB's results aren't terribly surprising, given many consumers' biases against some of these industries. A recent Gallup poll, for example, rated a variety of professions on their perceived honesty and ethical standards, with some interesting findings.

Third from the bottom were car salespeople, with 47% rating their honesty and ethics as "low" or "very low." Building contractors fared much better, with just 15% registering low opinions. (In last place, by the way -- and tying the record for worst rating ever on this question -- were members of Congress, with 64% of respondents having a low opinion of their honesty.)

Another explanation for why businesses in these industries got checked out so much is that they all represent major cash outlays for consumers. You probably won't do a background check on your sandwich vendor, but if you're looking to spend $20,000 on a new car, $30,000 on a new kitchen, or even just $3,000 on an interstate move, doing some research to minimize your odds of headaches or getting ripped off becomes a much more compelling idea.

Biggest Gripes

The BBB also reported which industries got the most complaints. (Note that complaints filed with the BBB are investigated, with companies given a month to respond. Roughly 95% of complaints are resolved by this point. The remainder head to mediation or arbitration.)

Topping the complaint list were cell-phone companies, with 38,420 complaints, up 41% over 2010. After that, the list includes (in order of number of gripes):

  • new-car dealers
  • television providers (cable, CATV, and satellite)
  • collection agencies
  • used-car dealers
  • banks
  • telephone companies
  • furniture retailers
  • car repair shops
  • online retailers

This list isn't surprising -- or damning -- Hurt explains, because these are frequently used services: "So even though the volume of complaints is high, the actual rate of complaints is relatively low. And companies in these industries also tend to resolve complaints at a higher rate, as well."

Complaints for television companies actually dropped 18% over the year, while bank complaints dropped 29% and online-retailer filings dropped 1%.

Payday loan companies led the list of industries seeing increases in complaints, with a 159% jump. Others, with increases ranging from 41% to 72%, included book publishers, cell-phone equipment/supplies, telephone companies, electronic equipment repair/service, florists, travel clubs, general retailers, insurance companies, and skin care.

Take Action

Some would suggest that there are fewer complaints because our economy has been in the dumps, and in such an environment, many workers are simply happy to have a job, and therefore offer better service. But our economy has been weak for quite a while now, so that may not be the explanation. Perhaps we're just becoming smarter consumers.

Regardless, you're more likely to have a good experience dealing with a business if you check it out first, to make sure it doesn't have any red flags waving over it. The Better Business Bureau, along with other consumer advisers such as Consumer Reports, Angie's List, and others, are there to help -- check them out.

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Wayne Bradshaw

Gucci sent their fall/winter 2012/2013 collection down the Milan Fashion Week runway today and it featured a much darker, more gothic and vampire-like color palette than what was shown by the iconic design house for fall 2011. One year ago Gucci Outlet showed bright colors and blocked them together, helping to explode the current color blocking trend. For fall 2012, Gucci moved away from the trend they started and let black rule the runway.

May 06 2012 at 12:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

sooo what are the names of the companies??? i'm sure BEST BUY is near the top.

March 08 2012 at 10:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

i thought they were going to mention specific companies. this article has no educational value

March 05 2012 at 12:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to C's comment

Actually, it does. If you didn't think to look up a contractor before they start to do that new kitchen, you now have a good reason.
How many people think to check the BBB before opening a checking account?

Listing specific companies would be the less useful thing. One might look on the list, not see the specific company they want to use and just blow it off.

I guess you might say your comment was the non-educational part of the article.

March 07 2012 at 2:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree with jjkrjw...Mayflower/United, in my opinion, was a mess. They damaged $9,000 worth of my antiques, lost things, chipped tables, broke vases, etc. I purchased extra insurance for the antiques.....they would not even give me the name of their insurance I could collect. They then denied their mover in nightmare from beginning to end. They charged me double for the move from home to storage and then storage to final destination.......never disclosed this to me. I complained to BBB...and to Transportation Union...nothing was done. I believe you should NEVER USE MAYFLOWER!

March 05 2012 at 11:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A BBB rating is only one of many factors. It is important to remember that the BBB has a long history of not biting the hand that feeds it. Quite similar to Consumer Reports the better rating may arrive via revenue from membership or advertising rather than from actual business practices or products.

March 05 2012 at 6:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Absolutely worthless trusting what the BBB has to say. They base their rating ( say A being very good) on how long the company is in business but, they only give YOU info based on 3 yrs, so no matter how many complaints against a company they are they are erased after 3 yrs, its all bullshit lip service, I had a comp about a paving company that never came back to seal the drive in the spring as written in contract, BBB told me why dont you just pay 50.00 at home depot and do it yourself its not that difficult. Of course I was thinking are you f'n kidding me, you overpaid useless fool? They also will not tell you the nature of comp against a business or how complaints were resolved, in other words they dont tell you jack squat thats worth your time

March 04 2012 at 10:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to nonameiam's comment

If a company has been operating for 3 years without a complaint, that might mean they fixed whatever the problem was...

Oh, and the BBB is just a listing. The fact that you asked the BBB for help fixing the driveway means you don't quite get what the BBB is in the first place.

March 07 2012 at 2:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Way off line... You all can pick which is worst but Congress and the Media has got to be the top two miss trusted outfits going. I don't think either is a member of The BBB. If they were that's all the BBB would be handling. No time for anything else!

March 04 2012 at 10:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to dmos63's comment

mediyuuh and their outright lies and refusal to ""vet"" n'oboMBa justifies them going first.-- then every single one of them that put S 1867 into existence.--which leaves very little as only SEVEN senators voted against this....con_gress ? any of them going and rolling along with demOcwappic ideas etc--
entire dump needs a clean out- and make sure to get it done on the local level as well.
EDUCATE YOUR FAMILY,neighbours and friends.

March 04 2012 at 11:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Chris & Craig

Dont trust the BBB. Here in Texas you can pay the BBB and they give you a rating

March 04 2012 at 9:32 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Chris & Craig

It would actually mean something from the BBB but its such a bullshit organization I don't trust anything they (BBB) put out. I have found out at least here in texas you can pay the BBB enough they will give you an excellent rating whetheer the company deserves it or not. They are just like a politician look at shake your hand and feel with the other one where to put the knife blade in your back

March 04 2012 at 9:30 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I can't believe Mayflower Moving Company isn't listed. They damaged or lost every single thing they touched. All of my furniture is dinged, chipped, scraped, and they didn't even reimburse me for the table they lost, or even try to locate it.

March 04 2012 at 8:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jjkrjw's comment

omg don't say that---my stuff is in storage with a branch of them...

March 04 2012 at 11:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply