Negotiation: 10 Tips and Tricks; How to Find a Resolution Online

Whenever you find yourself buying, selling, or finding a resolution online, remember these tips to save yourself time, money, and a headache.

  1. Educate yourself.

If you know the value of what it is you are trying to buy or sell, you are in a place where you can approximate how much you can reasonably offer/demand as payment. Coming in with an estimation close to what is the likely outcome will demonstrate both reasonableness and intelligence. When in doubt, Google it.

  1. Check your tone of text.

Communicating online is difficult because there is no vocal tone or facial expressions to attach to a message. People can easily misinterpret something meant in a kind way as rude because of this. Attempt to read your message from different perspectives prior to submission.

  1. Confirm your source.

If you buy/sell something to someone who has bad intentions, it is possible to find yourself in a bad situation—particularly because you have never met some of these people in person. Make sure to read different reviews if they are available, and when you are finished, leave your own review to help people in the future. You can provide a lot of guidance!

  1. Anchor your price.

Although you may find yourself wanting a fair outcome, as a buyer, start a bit lower, and as a seller, start a bit higher. You might find that 1) your price is met or 2) you receive a better deal because it is hard to move too far from an offer/demand once it is made.

  1. Advocate for you.

If something does go wrong, remember your outlets for a resolution. Reach out to online sources if it is a large company with a website. You can use email, social media, and instant messenger to contact. In the end, never underestimate a phone call and lots of patience. If none of these outlets work, there are methods to report sellers/buyers on websites such as Ebay & Amazon. You can report businesses to the Better Business Bureau. Find these outlets and make some noise—the “squeaky wheel” gets the most attention.

  1. Remember your value.

You are a consumer. Whether you are using a platform to sell something or you are buying something. Sometimes these online interactions can go poorly, but remember, companies need you. They need you to use their platforms; they need you to buy their products; they need you to “advertise” and support them, otherwise they will fail to find success. Feel empowered.

  1. Try multiple avenues.

Try to look for what you want from different places. There are many avenues that will price match. If you can show that the product or a comparable product is sold for a different price, then you can often negotiate. If the buyer/seller is unwilling to negotiate, they might not be the best option for you, which leads to number 8.

  1. When in doubt, walk away.

The willingness to walk away is often a very powerful tool. Remember that there will always be another buyer/seller and another product. However, if it is something you really want, bluff. It is okay to mislead in this instance. If you feel that something is “shady,” follow your gut and walk away. You will have more regrets spending money on a product that never comes in the mail or driving to meet a buyer that never shows up, then going with someone/something different. Sometimes it is worth spending a little bit more money or searching a little bit longer for peace of mind.

  1. Push back.

If someone is attempting to bully you into a price, undervalue you, or even convince of an untrue fact about a product, push back. If someone is trying to meet you somewhere you do not feel comfortable with, push back. If you are not getting the resolution you believe you truly deserve, push back. Ask for what you want. The worst that can happen is you create a sour relationship with someone you will likely never see again. Be respectful, but also, say what you want. With all the online revenues, you have lots of options on how to go about finding a resolution; push back with a variety of those and see what will happen.

  1. Justify your stance.

Something might hold more value for you than someone else. Feel free to justify your stance. Let someone know why you believe that this has a particular value. Support it with evidence. Online dispute resolution is an amazing avenue because often, there is an electronic record of the efforts you have taken and the words that have passed between you. Use this. Finally, remember: you are your own best advocate. Empower yourself, and you will find what you are looking for.

Consumer Complaints

The Washington Post recently interviewed Professor Amy J. Schmitz on her research related to consumer protection, and means for obtaining remedies.  You can read the article in the Washington Post at


This is from the cfpb press release:

“WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Bureau) today issued a Request for Information (RFI) about the Bureau’s public reporting of consumer complaints. The Bureau is seeking comments and information from interested parties on the usefulness of complaint reporting and analysis, as well as specific suggestions or best practices for complaint reporting. This is the sixth in a series of RFIs announced as part of Acting Director Mick Mulvaney’s call for evidence to ensure the Bureau is fulfilling its proper and appropriate functions to best protect consumers. This RFI will provide an opportunity for the public to submit feedback and suggest ways to improve outcomes for both consumers and covered entities. The next RFI in the series will address the Bureau’s rulemaking processes, and will be issued next week.

The RFI on complaint reporting is available at:

The CFPB will begin accepting comments once the RFI is printed in the Federal Register, which is expected to occur on March 7. The RFI will be open for comment for 90 days.

The Bureau anticipates issuing RFIs on the following topics in the coming weeks:

  • Rulemaking Processes
  • Bureau Adopted Rules
  • Inherited Rules
  • Guidance and Implementation Support
  • Consumer Education
  • Consumer Inquiries

More information about the call for evidence is available at:


The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by regularly identifying and addressing outdated, unnecessary, or unduly burdensome regulations; by making rules more effective; by consistently enforcing federal consumer financial law; and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives. For more information, visit”

Center for Dispute Resolution at University of Missouri

Campus Free Speech Issues and Dispute Resolution 

Although the free exchange of ideas is fundamental to every university’s mission, events on many of our nation’s campuses in recent years vividly demonstrate that preserving and promoting this principle in a university community presents enormous challenges. Members of the CSDR at the University of Missouri have had to deal with this type of conflict at a different level. In 2015, we were touched closely by events such as the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., a number of racially motivated incidents on our own campus, and the protests by students following those incidents, which, in turn, resulted in the resignations of high-profile campus leaders.

While perhaps Missouri played the role of the proverbial “canary in the coal mine,” confrontations like the one we experienced in 2015 soon emerged in other campuses across the U.S. Opposing narratives developed describing these events. One narrative portrays today’s students as hypersensitive and intolerant as they seek protections against offensive words and ideas, which results in the sacrifice of both intellectual rigor and First Amendment values. A counter-narrative posits that the rise in verbal abuse and violence against historically persecuted groups requires the prohibition or limitation of hateful, intolerant, or threatening speech on our campuses, as learning becomes impossible in an environment where members of the community feel unsafe.

Motivated by those experiences, Prof. Robert Jerry, who served as the dean of the law schools at the University of Florida and the University of Kansas for a combined total of 16 years, and who teaches and writes in dispute resolution among other subjects, and Prof. Chris Wells, who is one of the leading First Amendment scholars in the country and teaches in the dispute resolution area, have organized the 2017 CSDR/Journal of Dispute Resolution Symposium along this topic. The symposium, which is titled “The First Amendment on Campus: Identifying Principles for Best Practices for Managing and Resolving Disputes,” will explore the complex intersection between free expression and conflict at universities.

In what is likely a first-of-its-kind-effort, the program will bring together free speech scholars, dispute resolution experts, and university leaders with experience with free expression conflict, with the goal of advancing our understanding of how university leaders can remain true to both the mission of the university and the values of the First Amendment.

The timing of the symposium is particularly propitious for us, as it coincides with the arrival of our new Dean Lyrissa Lidsky, who is also an expert in First Amendment Law and has written on the topic of campus speech issues.


Expanding Access to Justice through ODR 

At one time, transactions between merchants and consumers were often sealed with a handshake. This handshake was more than a kind gesture—it helped reassure both parties that the other was committed to the deal and would correct any problems. As more transactions occur online, finding fair and efficient resolution of problems that arise can be challenging. In her new book with Colin Rule of Tyler Technologies, Prof. Amy J. Schmitz argues that using technology to enhance access to remedies is in the best interest of both retailers and consumers. In their book, The New Handshake: Online Dispute Resolution and the Future of Consumer Protection, Schmitz and Rule propose a design for this using Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) to establish a new virtual handshake for the online world. Their proposed process uses a single platform that merchants and consumers would access to resolve disputes. The platform would have a single set of guidelines, would abide by agreed due process standards, and would include means for alerting regulators regarding suspected fraud or unsafe products. It would utilize forward thinking encryption and coding to ensure privacy and coordinate with other consumer remedy processes throughout the world. Indeed, the EU has established its own ODR platform, UNCITRAL has pursued global ODR, and new ODR programs continually emerge in the wake access to justice movements.

The proposal is a collaboration between Schmitz, a consumer advocate and founder of; and Rule, a high-tech entrepreneur who had directed ODR for eBay. In this way, the project aims to create a win-win for consumers and businesses. “Our goal is to rebuild trust in the business-to-consumer marketplace and provide a blueprint for the future of online consumer protection.” More information can be found at and Prof. Schmitz’s interview on the book can be heard here. A few comments on the book include: Corporate Counsel; ODR.INFO; Oxford Business Law Blog; Business Conflict Management LLC.


Making Stone Soup 

The Stone Soup Dispute Resolution Knowledge Project is designed to promote collaboration by faculty, students, scholars, practitioners, educational institutions, and professional associations to produce, disseminate, and use valuable qualitative data about actual dispute resolution practice.

Professors John Lande and Rafael Gely are the co-directors of the project, which grew out of the Center’s 2016 symposium, Moving Negotiation Theory from the Tower of Babel Toward a World of Mutual Understanding. Several symposium speakers criticized the current state of negotiation theory and argued that more empirical research about actual negotiations is needed to advance negotiation theory.

Faculty have multiple ways to participate in the project. For example, they may use their courses to generate knowledge about dispute resolution. As part of their course requirements, students may interview professionals and/or laypeople about actual cases. Some faculty may conduct “focus group classes” in which they systematically ask selected guest speakers about actual cases. Faculty may use these assignments and activities in a wide variety of courses including those that do not specifically or exclusively focus on dispute resolution.

The project encourages schools to take advantage of practitioners’ perspectives by conducting general debriefing of student competitions. Faculty may also take advantage of talks at continuing education programs to obtain data from practitioners. For more information, see

In this inaugural year of the project, it should engage at least 800 students in 48 classes covering 17 subjects, taught by 29 faculty from 24 schools in three countries.


Dispute Resolution Empirical Research 

Empirical research has long been a mainstay of dispute resolution scholarship, and the members of the CSDR continue to generate ground-breaking and influential work. Some recent work in this field was conducted by Prof. S.I. Strong in her article “Realizing Rationality: An Empirical Assessment of International Commercial Mediation,” 73 Washington and Lee Law Review 1973 (2016), which included the first-ever large-scale international study of international commercial mediation. Preliminary findings from that project were provided to the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) to support efforts to adopt a new international instrument relating to the enforcement of settlement agreements arising out of commercial mediation.

Prof. Strong, with Prof. Rafael Gely, CSDR director, is currently working on a new project funded by a $25,000 grant from the American Arbitration Association-International Center for Dispute Resolution (AAA-ICDR) Foundation. The project seeks to expand the understanding of arbitrator reasoning in international commercial disputes by conducting a multi-phased empirical study. The first prong of the research involves a series of semi-structured interviews with leading arbitrators working in the area of national and international commercial arbitration so as to identify the goals arbitrators that are seeking to achieve when writing reasoned awards and how arbitrators believe they are fulfilling those aims. The second prong of the study involves an international survey of commercial arbitrators and judges. This material will seek to confirm information gleaned during the interviews and to identify additional supplemental material. The third prong is doctrinal in nature and involves an empirical analysis of publicly available arbitral awards gleaned from enforcement proceedings in court or published in arbitral reports and judicial decisions gleaned from case reports in the United States and elsewhere. After identifying the relevant awards and decisions, the materials will be coded for various attributes and analyze the data to determine whether there are any differences between national and international commercial awards on the one hand fully reasoned arbitral awards and judicial decisions on the other.

Prof. Gely is also undertaking a separate strand of empirical research looking at how is the arbitration process portrayed in the mainstream media. Motivated through a partnership with the National Academy of Arbitrators, Prof. Gely and his collaborators, and drawing from the work of scholars in communications and journalism, the research project is seeking to collect and analyze data taken from news reports about arbitration. The goal of the project is to better understand how the media is reporting about arbitration. A preliminary article discussing the research project (“What and How Journalists are Reporting About Arbitration”) was published in Proceedings of the Sixty-Ninth Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Arbitrators, Arbitration 2016: Arbitration in Practice.


More News 

Mizzou Law – CSDR • 206 Hulston Hall, Columbia, MO 65211

The Newhandshake: Online Dispute Resolution and the Future of Consumer Protection

We used to buy goods and services in person.  We’d introduce ourselves, look each other in the eye, and negotiate the terms of the transaction.  If we thought it was a good deal, we’d seal it with a handshake.  That handshake was more than a kind gesture – it signaled that if any problem arose, both sides were committed to getting it resolved quickly and fairly.  That handshake was our personal trustmark.

Nowadays, it’s harder to close deals with a handshake.  We can buy items from all over the world with just a few swipes on our iPhones, but when problems arise (as they inevitably do) the next step is often unclear.  On the internet it is difficult, if not impossible, to tell the good merchants from the bad merchants, and the processes for resolving disputes are often confusing or hard to find.  Customer service can feel like a runaround (e.g. long hold times, unfair refund policies) and formal redress mechanisms that work in the face-to-face world, like the courts, are generally impractical for online purchases — especially when purchases are low value and cross several legal jurisdictions.

The New Handshake: Online Dispute Resolution and the Future of Consumer Protection focuses on this lack of trust and access to remedies for online transactions.  This groundbreaking book proposes a design for a “New Handshake” for the online world.  This New Handshake uses Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) to provide fast and fair resolutions for low-dollar claims, such as those in most B2C (Business-to-Consumer) contexts.  This revolutionary system is designed to operate independently of the courts, thereby eliminating procedural complexities and choice of law concerns.  Furthermore, it can be integrated directly into the websites where transactions take place. It would provide consumers with free access to remedies, while saving businesses from costs and complexities of court.  The New Handshake aims to rebuild trust in the B2C marketplace, and provide a blueprint for the future of online consumer protection.

This is not your typical “law” or “business” book.  Instead, is a collaborative effort of a business leader and a law professor.   The result is essential reading for:
Online merchants
Payment providers
Customer services
Law and business students
Consumer advocates
Policy makers
ODR systems designers
The New Handshake can be purchased on the ABA website here:

How to Dispute an Online Order That Was Never Delivered

According to the latest reports from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, roughly $3.4 Billion of retail sales occurred online just last year alone. Consumers are becoming increasingly more comfortable with making their purchases online. Fortunately, the vast majority of these sales occur without any problems, but what happens when those shoes you purchased online do not show up? What are your rights when the seller delays delivery? Even worse, what happens when you get the credit card bill in the mail a few weeks later with the charge for the shoes still on it?

Two federal laws- the Mail, Internet or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule and the Fair Credit Billing Act offer protections and procedures, so you don’t have to pay for merchandise that you ordered, but never received.

Your Rights When Shopping Online, Phone, or by Mail

The Mail, Internet, or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule is a federal regulation that is administered by the Federal Trade Commission and applies to most goods you order by mail, phone, fax, or online. Essentially, this rule requires sellers to have a reasonable basis for claiming they can ship an order within a certain time. The rule also tells sellers what to do whenever there is a delay in an expected shipment.

By law, a seller should ship your order within the timeframe stated in its ads or over the phone. In cases where a delivery date is not promised, then the default rule is that you can expect the seller to ship the goods within 30 days of your order. The timer begins as soon as the seller receives a completed order with your Name, Address, and Payment.

If the seller is unable to ship your product within the promised time, the rule requires that they must notify you, provide you with a revised shipping date, and give you an option for either a full refund or to accept the new delivery date. If you do not respond, and the delay is 30 days or less, then it is assumed that you accept the delay and are willing to wait for the merchandise, If, however, you do not respond, and the delay is more than 30 days, the seller must cancel the order by the 30th day and issue you a full refund promptly.

Hopefully, the seller has delivered your order within the revised delivery schedule. But, if there is yet another delay, then the Rule requires the seller to contact you again and give you a revised delivery date, or the option cancel the order for a full refund. If you do not respond to the second notice, the seller should assume that you are not willing to wait, cancel your order, and issue a full refund.

How to Dispute Your Charges for Non-Delivery:

Below is a quick summary of steps to take to get either your money back or the charge removed from your credit card bill:

Step One: Contact the seller

Reach out to the seller and try to resolve the problem with them directly first. Larger websites such as Amazon have great consumer dispute resolution processes to either get a new product reshipped quickly, or a refund issued. In general, most businesses want to keep the consumer happy so you’ll keep coming back with them. Hopefully, this should be the only step you need to take, but if you get pushback from the business, you still have options!

Step Two: File a Dispute with your Credit Card Company (Unless you paid via Paypal, then jump down to the PayPal Dispute section below)

The Fair Credit Billing Act allows you to file a dispute with your credit card company for undelivered merchandise, so long as you inform the credit card company within 60 days of the first bill that has the disputed charge on it. To take advantage of this right:

  • Write to the credit card issuer at the address given for “billing inquiries,” not the address where you send your payments. Make sure to include your name, address, account number, and a description of the billing error- in this case nondelivery of your goods.
  • Include copies of sales slips or any other documents that support your position.
  • It’s recommended to send this letter via certified mail, so you have proof of what the credit card issuer received.

After you have filed your complaint, the credit card company must acknowledge your complaint, in writing, within 30 days after receiving it. The credit card company then must resolve the dispute within two billing cycles after getting your letter. During this time that the company investigates your dispute, you may withhold your payment on the disputed amount. Keep in mind this is only for the disputed amount, so make sure you continue to pay for all other charges on that card. Also, during this time, the credit card company may not take any legal or other action to collect on the disputed amount and related charges (including finance charges).

Paypal Dispute:

If you paid for your online order with your credit card and used Paypal as the payment processor, it’s recommended that you file your complaint with Paypal due to their expanded line of protection. The Paypal Purchase Protection policy gives you 180 days to file a complaint, and will provide you with a full refund of your purchase price and shipping costs if:

1) You were charged for something you didn’t purchase, or

2) Your order never arrived, or

3) Your order arrives, but it is significantly different than how it was described. 

There are a variety of scenarios that meet this condition, for instance:

  • You received a completely different item.
    Example: You purchased a book, but received a DVD.
  • The item is missing parts or features, and this was not disclosed.
    Example: The listing said batteries included, but they weren’t.
  • You purchased a specific quantity of an item but received the wrong amount.
    Example: You purchased five pairs of fuzzy dice and only received four.
  • The item was damaged en route to its destination.
    Example: You bought a beautiful antique lamp, and it arrived in pieces.
  • You received a counterfeit version of the item.
    Example: You purchased a Rolex, but received a Faux-Lex.


Hopefully utilizing the above steps should quickly put the law on your side and help get you a refund for your order, or the charge removed from your credit card statement! When shopping online, always try to stick with using larger retail stores since many of them have policies in place to quickly resolve these sorts of issues. It also helps to use a payment processor such as Paypal whenever you get the chance so that you can take advantage of the Purchase Protection policy.


Using Social Media to Improve the Consumer Complaint Process

Our social media driven culture is used to posting, sharing, Tweeting, chatting, pinning, blogging, and Skyping – with friends and strangers alike. But, in the past decade, businesses have emerged as a new player in the social media hierarchy. This has given consumers new tools for reaching out to businesses, and has created a whole new type of online customer service.

Consider an airline passenger who, on a long flight, was frustrated when the television screen in front of him was not working. From his phone, he wrote a short Twitter message to JetBlue, the airline on which he was flying, to describe the problem. Before his plane landed, representatives from JetBlue issued a personal response, apologizing for the problem and offering him a $15 credit on his next flight.

This story serves as a great example of the power of social media to reach companies. There are several advantages to this new system. First, social media platforms provide a forum where consumers and businesses can correspond directly. Neither party has to wait until the other is available, which means no waiting on hold and no missed callbacks. Not only does this make the process more convenient for consumers, it benefits businesses by simplifying the complaint resolution process and saving time. Noting these benefits, many companies have started training customer service representatives to respond to social media complaints.

Second, the consumer’s compliant — and the company’s response — are visible to millions of internet users. This creates a virtual handbook of consumer Q&A, where consumers can learn from the resolutions provided for prior customers. More importantly, it also puts pressure on companies to respond fairly to customer concerns. Observers can also see the time that elapsed between complaint and resolution. This can help customers get an idea of how long the process should take, and keeps the business accountable to its consumers for its response time. Companies who do not help their consumers in a fair and timely way risk offending their customer base.

Consumers can use this new approach with relative ease. Twitter and Facebook, the two most common social media forums for customer complaints, offer free accounts. To sign up, all the user needs to provide is a name, birthday, and an email address. After joining, consumers can use the search bar to find the company they wish to speak to, and then type a simple message. The next step is to wait, and follow any instructions that the company provides in its reply. After a few days, if no one responds, the consumer should try other contact methods like email or telephone.

Just because the process is easy does not mean it is foolproof. In fact, some consumers who have posted complaints on social media have later been sued by the company for harassment, defamation, or libel. MyConsumerTips already has a blog (link here) describing how to avoid those lawsuits, but the key takeaway is: use good judgement. Don’t lie, don’t exaggerate, and don’t be malicious. For serious complaints, the consumer may consider contacting the state attorney general’s office or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau instead.

There are some other drawbacks to social media complaints. First, a response is not guaranteed, and it may not come in the timeline that you expect. Second, social media is a bad forum for some types of questions. Imagine Tweeting to Ikea for help putting a bookcase together. The conversation might take hundreds of back-and-forth messages, which would overrun the company’s Twitter page.

Questions which require personal information are also bad for social media. Imagine posting a question on your bank’s Facebook page, asking whether your recent foreclosure has impacted your line of credit. Not only have you broadcast your recent foreclosure to millions of strangers, the bank will probably need more information (at a minimum, your account number) in order to fully answer your question. You should never give out personal information on social media sites.

Noting the obvious benefits of social media customer service, some industry analysts believe that it will displace email and telephone as the primary means for consumer complaints. Whether or not that occurs, consumers who follow the tips outlined above may find that reaching out via social media is faster, easier, and more successful than other means. Happy Tweeting!

Online Reviewers Sued for Defamation? How to Protect Yourself

The carpet cleaner you hired was late, rude, and left the carpets dirtier than before he arrived. So you find his company’s Facebook page and write a few lines saying what a poor job he did for you. A few months later, you get a letter in the mail. You are being sued by the carpet cleaner for defamation! Is this possible? In today’s social-media driven world, it is.

Technology has given consumers unparalleled opportunities to gather and share information about businesses. With just a few clicks, consumers can share their opinions with millions of people. Businesses are also aware of the power of social media; in fact, many businesses actively seek good reviews and take action to silence bad ones. Suing a consumer for defamation can serve as a powerful way to silence a bad review.

A carpet and rug cleaning business recently sued seven people for defamation after they posted negative reviews about the businesses on a popular consumer review website. According to the owner, the negative reviews brought a 30 percent drop in sales, and he was forced to lay off dozens of people. A lawyer in California, a plastic surgeon in Chicago, and a contractor in Virginia have all filed similar suits.

Although these stories may scare consumers, the companies who bring these lawsuits face many difficulties. First, social-media sites like Facebook, Yelp, and Twitter are protected from many types of lawsuit by federal law. The Communications Decency Act of 1996 protects online service providers from being sued for the actions of their users. So the companies cannot sue the consumer review websites that display the bad reviews, only the person who posted the review. But this invites the second problem: because reviewers are not generally required to post under their real name, companies often don’t know whom to sue. To find the identity of the reviewer, the company must get a court order which requires the website to identify the person. Most consumer review websites fight these requests forcefully.

Even if a company can obtain the identity of the reviewer, defamation lawsuits are difficult to win. The reviewer can escape liability by proving that the review was true, or based on personal opinion. So a review stating that the carpet cleaner was late is not defamation if it is true. And a review claiming that the carpet cleaner is the worst you’ve ever used is not defamation if it is your personal opinion. This shows why defamation suits against consumers typically fail.

There are several ways to protect yourself from a defamation lawsuit without losing your right to voice your opinion. First, only write reviews for companies and products you have actually used. Reviews based on anything less than personal knowledge are far more vulnerable to a defamation claim. Second, don’t exaggerate. Focus on the facts, not just getting revenge on a company. Third, if your complaint is very serious, consider submitting it through another entity. You can reach out to your state attorney general’s office, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or your local office of the Better Business Bureau.  These organizations can insulate consumers from defamation lawsuits if they are used effectively.

Government agencies and the BBB typically investigate and substantiate claims before they publish them. Therefore, it is almost impossible for a reviewer who submits a complaint through these entities to be sued for defamation. Additionally, these entities sometimes offer mediation or arbitration services to help reach an amicable resolution for the consumer. Companies face pressure to respond to a complaint from the BBB, because the company’s BBB rating is at risk if they don’t resolve the problem. Government agencies have even more power. They can make legally binding requests for information, and can bring a lawsuit on behalf of any consumer who was wronged.

As long as consumers use good judgment, and follow the tips outlined above, it is unlikely that they will ever be sued for defamation. But the danger of these suits serves as a great reminder to consumers: be fair and composed in your company reviews, or else they may come back to haunt you.

Can the Better Business Bureau Help Me?

Have you ever felt cheated by a company? It can happen to anyone. And although many companies focus on resolving customer problems, other companies ignore customer complaints. When this happens customers often feel helpless, thinking: “I’m just one person; how can I get the attention of this big corporation?”



Enter the Better Business Bureau (“BBB”). This non-profit organization, founded in 1912, tries to keep markets fair by increasing trust between buyers and sellers. To accomplish this, the BBB rates businesses on a scale of A+ to F. The BBB gives high ratings to companies which build trust, advertise honestly, tell the truth, promote transparency, honor promises, respond to customer complaints, protect privacy, and embody integrity. Though companies have no obligation to work with the BBB, many seek a rating from the the BBB in the hope of attracting new customers.

The BBB considers 16 factors when deciding how to grade each company, including the number of complaints lodged against a business. By tracking and resolving customer complaints, the BBB gives customers the power they need to challenge corporate practices. Though the company may not care about losing a few customers from its bad service, it could lose many customers if its BBB rating falls.


How the BBB can help:

The BBB provides three useful tools for consumers. First, consumers can use BBB ratings when deciding which companies to do business with. For example, a consumer who is searching for a contractor might type several names into the BBB’s website and choose the one with the highest rating. Consumers can generally assume that businesses with a high BBB rating will be honest, respond to complaints, and act with integrity. Further, a good rating from the BBB suggests that the company has not had many complaints lodged against it.

Second, the BBB gives consumers another avenue to resolve complaints. Consumers are almost powerless when a company refuses to respond to their complaint, but the BBB turns up the pressure on companies to respond to individual customers. The BBB can also provide mediation and arbitration services which can help resolve customer complaints, even when the company has been hard to deal with. The BBB reports that it helps parties settle almost 80% of the customer complaints it receives.

Finally, the BBB can keep companies accountable. A company who is accredited by the BBB might try harder to resolve your concern, knowing that your dissatisfaction could affect its rating. Say, for example, that a company with an A+ rating had a dispute with a customer. To protect this rating, the company might go the extra mile to resolve the concern. Otherwise, the company risks losing its strong BBB rating, and losing customers who rely on the rating before choosing a company.

These tools, when used properly, can help a consumer make an informed choice, and can give a consumer the power to give an informed complaint if he is wronged by the company.


Potential Problems:

Because the BBB is a private company, it needs to make money to stay viable. It doesn’t charge the consumers who use its service; instead, the BBB receives money from many of the businesses it rates. Several recent news stories report that that companies have increased their rating dramatically by paying a few hundred dollars to the BBB. In fact, the recently abandoned BBB rankings procedure actually considered whether a company paid dues to the BBB. Thus, a company might receive a lower rating just because it chose not to contribute money to the BBB. Further, those companies which were willing to pay the BBB may have inflated their prices to make up for the expense – thus harming consumers who selected BBB approved companies.

The BBB claims that it no longer gives better rankings to those companies which pay dues. But, because the BBB does not fully disclose how it calculates its ratings, consumers can’t be sure why a company is given its specific rating. And businesses who don’t pay dues to the BBB are not allowed to see or respond to customer complaints lodged with the BBB. Considering this lack of transparency, consumers should not believe that the BBB’s rating system is flawless.



The BBB is the most widely recognized name in business ratings. Still, a consumer shouldn’t use the BBB’s ratings as the final answer in corporate reviews. Instead, consumers should take the benefits of the BBB – searching a business’s history, considering a business’s rating, and (potentially) filing a grievance – and use them in harmony with other tools. Those who do this will become “informed consumers” who can stop problems before they start.

Several other ratings agencies exist, many of which are not funded by direct contributions from businesses. One popular website, Yelp, aggregates reviews submitted by consumers, thus reducing conflicts of interest and increasing transparency. But Yelp makes income from selling ads on its page, so a company can still get some preferential treatment if it pays for advertising on the site. Further, there it is unclear that all reviews are legitimate.  Google offers a similar tool to read business reviews, as does Kudzu, Angie’s List, and many more. Some of these systems are subscription based, which means that the user pays to access the content. Though this can be a small disadvantage for consumers, it can preserve the integrity of the ratings systems by preventing businesses from buying a favorable score. Still, each resource has its own pros and cons. Wise consumers will use these resources in concert when seeking business information.