Each year Better Business Bureaus assist millions of consumers with their complaints against businesses, helping to resolve more than two-thirds of the disputes processed. BBBs achieve this impressive resolution rate by serving as impartial arbiters, trusted by consumers and businesses alike. While the public can be quick to assign blame to merchants for disputes that may arise, decades of experience have shown that not every complaint can be attributed to the policies, practices or product of the retailer. At times the consumer bears some, or even all, of the responsibility for the dispute that is at issue.
An informed consumer is likely to be a satisfied consumer. Exercising common sense and making wise purchasing decisions will enable a consumer to avoid spending time, energy and/or money to resolve complaints afterwards. To help uphold an ethical marketplace, one that serves the needs of both consumers and businesses, BBBs offer the following tips to consumers:
- Shop with companies you know to be reliable. If you do not know of a reputable merchant that provides a particular service or product, ask family, friends or neighbors for a recommendation. If you are tempted to respond to an offer from a telemarketer or an online merchant with whom you are not familiar, ask for a paper catalog or brochure to get a better idea of their merchandise and services.
- Always check with the BBB for a reliability report on the business. Such a report will provide you with helpful information about that merchant's marketplace record. If there are serious customer complaints or a consistent pattern of complaints against a retailer, the BBB report will reflect that fact. However, one or two resolved complaints against a business should not be viewed as a negative.
- Allow time for comparison-shopping. Shop carefully to get the best selection and price. Once you have a good idea of the price range offered by reputable merchants, you will not be tempted by a price significantly below the marketplace average --an unbelievable, "too good to be true" price. That is typically the mark of a scam artist. Or it can be a sign of a "hit and run" merchant who will vanish long before you are able to pursue satisfaction.
- Carefully read advertisements for details and restrictions. Ads typically include important information relating to expiration of the offer, brand and model of product being advertised, rebate terms and other details that may influence your purchasing decision. Clip the advertisement and have a copy handy when you visit the merchant. Retailers are obligated to meet the terms as advertised; asking them to honor outdated offers or fund rebates that are the purview of the manufacturer is asking for special treatment. Whether the merchant will be able to respond positively out of "good will" may well depend on factors outside of his or her control.
- Ask about return policies and warranty issues before heading for the "check out" lane. Make sure you are okay with the refund and return policies for the items, especially those on sale or clearance. Remember, accepting returns and offering exchanges is a policy decision of the company, not necessarily the right of the consumer (unless the merchandise is defective). Save all receipts, warranty details, packaging materials, and other important materials. These will prove helpful if the merchant does accept returns. Dishonest consumers who return products to stores from which they were not purchased are harming themselves; such practices raise retailers' costs and can lead to higher prices for all shoppers.
- Read and understand any contract you are asked to sign. Make sure that all the blanks are filled in and that any verbal promises made by the salesperson are also in writing. Once both parties have signed the contract, each side has obligations to fulfill. To expect a service provider or merchant to waive contract provisions is probably an unfair assumption. If that business has operated in good faith and is meeting its written promises, it is under no obligation to change the contract terms in order to please a customer who may have changed his or her mind, or failed to carefully read the terms of the contract beforehand.
- If a dispute does arise, complain effectively. Any business is likely to respond positively to a consumer who calmly and politely states the problem, suggests corrective action that will help retain him or her as a satisfied customer, and provides needed documentation (receipt, advertisement, contract, etc.) to support their argument. Angry and abusive consumers who take their complaint to the company seeking revenge, only make the situation worse and more difficult to resolve the real dispute. If you do not receive satisfaction from the first employee that you contact, ask to speak to management or contact the store headquarters. If the business is not responsive, file a complaint with the BBB.