sales seminars in St. Peters, Mo.; Fairview Heights, Ill.; and downtown. The company teaches budding entrepreneurs how to set up their own websites and sell products online.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises customers attending the seminars to be extremely cautious when dealing with representatives of StoresOnline, Inc., or iMergent, Inc., of Orem, Utah. While there is no admission fee to attend the seminars, salespeople at the meetings and follow-up sessions typically try to convince attendees to spend several thousand dollars for help in setting up their own websites.
Complainants have told the BBB that they felt misled, experienced high-pressure sales tactics and found the startup instructions confusing and difficult to navigate. They also said they had problems obtaining assistance from customer service representatives. The BBB in Salt Lake City, Utah, reports that it has processed more than 800 complaints against StoresOnline in the past 36 months. Of those, 270 were closed in the past 12 months. The company has a grade of “F” with the BBB, the lowest grade possible.
Michelle Corey, president and CEO of the St. Louis BBB, said StoresOnline officials have promised repeatedly to make changes in the way the company operates in an effort to reduce complaints.
“We have been waiting for them to live up to that promise, but based on the complaints the BBB continues to receive, we can find no reason to soften our warnings about this company.” While StoresOnline offers a free meal and free gift for attending its seminar, Corey said, “people should realize that a free lunch could end up costing thousands of dollars.”
StoresOnline previously held a series of sale seminars in the St. Louis region in February 2009. At that time, the BBB warned consumers to be cautious and noted that the company had been the focus of legal action by attorneys general and other law enforcement officials in at least nine states and Australia. Since then, the company has agreed to pay more than $300,000 in restitution and other costs in Washington and California. The California case alleged that StoresOnline and iMergent falsely promised consumers they could get rich by selling merchandise over the Internet.
Earlier this year, the federal court in Australia found that StoresOnline, Inc., and StoresOnline International, Inc. made misleading and deceptive representations regarding the price of their products and services.
The St. Louis area seminars open at noon today at the Old Hickory Golf Club in St. Peters, according to a StoresOnline registration site. A second session is set for 6 p.m. at the club. Four Points by Sheraton in Fairview Heights, Ill., will host seminars at noon and 6 p.m. Wednesday. Crowne Plaza St. Louis downtown will be the site of seminars at noon and 6 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and at 9 a.m. and noon on Saturday.
In a meeting with the BBB in St. Louis several months ago, StoresOnline representatives said they had been working to improve customer relations and reduce the number of complaints about their services. An attorney for the company did not immediately respond to a request for additional information.
The company’s website lists Steven G. Mihaylo as chief executive officer and director of the company and Clint Sanderson as president.
On its website, StoresOnline says the company offers a “world-class e-commerce solution with comprehensive tools, training and support. StoresOnline has everything you need for success on the Internet.”
The website offers testimonials from clients who praise the company. But complaints to the BBB paint a different picture.
An unemployed sheet metal worker from Smithville, Mo., said he and his wife were offered a free lunch and an MP3 player to attend a seminar earlier this year in the Kansas City area. What he got, he said, was a tuna salad sandwich and months of headaches. He said he felt pressured into spending $5,000 on a software startup package and technical help in setting up a website to sell safety equipment. He said he and his wife tried to set up the site, but were unsuccessful and asked for a refund. The company denied the refund, he said. He said that after paying the $5,000, the company asked repeatedly for additional fees.
“Eat the free meal,” he suggested, “but don’t buy anything.”
A woman in Decatur, Ill., said she attended a seminar in that city in January and follow-up meetings in Springfield, Ill., and St. Louis, eventually spending more than $6,000 for website setup help. She said she was never able to get the site operational. “It was like running around in a vicious circle,” she said of repeated attempts to deal with technical support representatives. She said she eventually managed to get a partial refund from the company after filing a complaint with the BBB.
“It’s the worst company I have ever dealt with, hands-down,” she said. “I would stay far away.”
The BBB has an extensive report on this company available at www.bbb.org.
The BBB offers the following tips for persons considering attending a free marketing seminar: