Acai berry product peddlers lock customers in after “free” trial expires
New York, NY – January 9, 2009 - Better Business Bureau is warning consumers to be wary of online ads relying on celebrity endorsements to sell acai berry related weight loss products. BBB has received thousands of complaints from consumers nationwide who thought they were signing up for a free-trial offer of acai berry weight loss products that were supposedly endorsed by Oprah, Rachel Ray and other celebrities; in the end, the free trial cost them, month after month.
The acai berry has been featured on national TV shows and praised by doctors and celebrities for its high level of antioxidants. Marketing claims about the acai include that it fights cancer and aging and promotes dietary health and weight loss – and these claims are working, with sales of acai products approaching $15 million last year, up from $500,000 per year in previous years. Producers of acai berry supplements, juices and tea have been very successful peddling their goods in ads on the Internet and on social networking Web sites such as Facebook. In November alone, more than 1.5 million people searched for the term on Google. Online ads and Web sites often include celebrity endorsements claiming that the acai is a weight loss miracle.
“BBB can’t speak to the restorative or weight loss properties of acai-based products, but we are taking companies to task for their misleading sales and marketing practices,” said Claire Rosenzweig, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Serving Metropolitan New York. “Many businesses across the country are using the same selling model for their acai products: they lure customers in with celebrity endorsements and free trial offers, and then lock them in by making it extremely difficult to cancel the automatic delivery of more acai products every month.”
Following are two companies that exemplify dozens of other businesses operating nationwide that sell acai-related items with a similar sales model:
BBB serving Fort Worth recently received a large volume of complaints against FX Supplements.com, a Web site selling products such as Acai Berry Maxx and Maxx Slim Hoodia. The company offers a risk-free trial of their products for the cost of shipping and handling. However, if consumers do not cancel within the trial period they are sent additional bottles every month and are billed $85.90. Complaints show that the trial period fluctuates between 10 and 14 days from when the consumer requested the free trial—not from when they received the product.
Complainants stated they had difficulty canceling their subscription; some made numerous calls to the phone number listed, found the number out of service, continually busy or were sent to voicemail. Complainants also had a difficult time canceling their subscription via the e-mail provided. In some cases the e-mail address did not work or the complainant continued to be billed even after multiple e-mails. Several customers reported that they were forced to close down bank accounts and cancel credit cards to stop recurring charges.
Central Coast Nutraceuticals
In the last 12 months, the BBB serving Central, Northern and Western Arizona has received more than 1,400 complaints for a company called Central Coast Nutraceuticals which operates several Web sites selling acai, hoodia and male enhancement products. The company uses Oprah-endorsements of the acai berry in ads touting its weight-loss benefits and offers a free trial of acai-related products including supplements and tea. Due to the company’s negative option, if, after the free trial, the consumer no longer wishes to receive a monthly supply they must cancel their subscription or they will be billed $40 monthly.
The complaints against the company all tell a similar tale of how difficult it was to contact the company and cancel the subscription — including enduring 75 minutes on hold. Additionally, consumers complain of unauthorized charges on their credit card or bank accounts for products they did not order. Central Cost Nutraceuticals has earned an F grade from BBB for a large volume of unanswered and unresolved complaints.
“These companies are simply abusing general acai berry endorsements from well-known celebrities, such as Oprah, by using it as a tacit endorsement of their company and products specifically,” added Rosenzweig. “Consumers trust celebrities and unfortunately, if they are tricked into believing the endorsements then they are definitely more likely to purchase it.”
Before purchasing acai products, BBB recommends checking out the seller first. BBB maintains a free online database with more than four million reports on businesses at www.bbb.org. Additionally, consumers shopping online should look for the BBB seal on Web sites and click on the seal to confirm its legitimacy. And of course, consumers can always contact BBB directly with questions, concerns and complaints.
BBB is an unbiased non-profit organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Businesses that earn BBB accreditation contractually agree and adhere to the organization’s high standards of ethical business behavior. BBB provides objective advice, free business BBB Reliability ReportsTM and charity BBB Wise Giving ReportsTM, and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. To further promote trust, BBB also offers complaint and dispute resolution support for consumers and businesses when there is difference in viewpoints. The first BBB was founded in 1912. Today, 125 BBBs serve communities across the U.S. and Canada, evaluating and monitoring more than 4 million local and national businesses and charities. Please visit www.bbb.org for more information about BBB.