Standards go far beyond sales pitches

SUNDAY, MARCH 20, 2011

You are sitting at home at your computer at 2 a.m., surfing the Internet looking for the perfect bunny slippers. You see all sorts of sleep-inducing footwear and order the $69.96 pink plush slippers GUARANTEED to put you back to sleep in minutes! But they don’t work.

In the last several months the BBB has turned down more applications for BBB Accreditation than I can remember. Nope, you cannot simply write us a check and instantly have the ability to display that 100-year-old, trusted Torch Logo on your door, website or proposals. But that has come as a surprise to a number of businesses lately.

Here’s how it works: When a company applies for accreditation, we vet it by measuring the applicant’s practices against the BBB Standards for Trust:

Start with trust: Establish and maintain a positive track record in the marketplace.

Advertise honestly: Adhere to established standards of advertising and selling.

Tell the truth: Reveal all related conditions or exceptions regarding products or services offered.

Be transparent: Openly identify the nature, location and ownership of the business, and clearly disclose all policies, guarantees and procedures that bear on a customer’s decision to buy.

Honor promises: Abide by all written and verbal agreements.

Be responsive: Address marketplace disputes quickly, respectfully and reasonably.

Safeguard privacy: Protect any data collected against mishandling and fraud, collect personal information only as needed, and respect the preferences of consumers regarding the use of their information.

Embody integrity: Approach all business dealings, marketplace transactions and commitments with integrity.

If BBB staff feels the company does not live up to these standards, the application is declined, their money returned and the applicant told they can appeal the decision to the Standards Committee of our board of directors. That committee listens to staff concerns and the company rebuttal and makes a final decision. In February, we held five hearings to appeal denied accreditation.

The biggest problem we see is firms that way over-promise results. Especially of concern are claims of health benefits and energy-saving offers. We ask companies to substantiate claims they make on their websites, in promotional material and in sales pitches. It’s alarming how many can’t come close to showing us proof of the things they say.

But that is part of the reality in today’s marketplace. The Internet has changed so much about how we conduct research, buy products and find services. And for some odd reason, when people see things on the Internet or on TV, they have this false sense of security that if it is being said, someone has checked it and it must be true.

So the BBB has been busy lately taking a hard look at what a company says to the general public. And that is the essence of starting with trust. A company’s advertising is the first contact it has with a potential customer.

As a buyer, do more research. If the offer feels a bit too good to be true, it might be. If there were a device that would save you 45 percent on your utility bill each month, wouldn’t we all know about it? And if Vitamin O really were the fountain of youth, all of our health care providers would be shouting the benefits from the rooftops.

As a business, take the BBB Standards for Trust and measure your website claims and sales pitches against the list. Many companies live by these standards. In fact, they developed them.

The BBB does not report application denials, but we do publish and distribute accreditation revocations, and there have been several lately. They are at Just log on, enter your ZIP code and you’ll be taken to your local BBB site. Then enter the News Center and read the latest marketplace warnings.

Educate yourself. Start with trust.

Jan Quintrall is president and CEO of the local Better Business Bureau. She can be reached at


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