Consumer dispute websites gaining popularity
Susan Kim, Stephanie Graham
From complaints about wireless service, used car lots, pet care companies, and in Neal Alderson's case--sunglasses. New online resolution sites claim to 'take the pain out of complain'. Neal says when his expensive sunglasses broke in half. He requested a replacement pair from the maker, but all he got was the run around. So, he posted his gripe on 'gripevine' for free. Gripevine contacted the shades' manufacturer, and soon Neal got some not so shady news.
"I got exactly what I wanted, which was a replacement pair of sunglasses," Neal exclaims.
What makes gripevine and other new problem-solving sites like 'scambook' and 'peopleclaim' different than traditional complaint resolution avenues? The internet!
Gripevine's founder Dave Carroll became a YouTube sensation when he posted a video about an airline he says damaged his guitar and refused to pay for it. After a million hits, Carroll says they changed their tune. "In the first two weeks I received 10,000 emails congratulating me, but also saying that they felt that they didn't have a voice and they wished they had a voice."
While filing complaints on some sites is free, others may charge you. For example, on 'peopleclaim', filing a complaint is free. The site will notify the company about your problem, but if the company doesn't respond, you can pay $7.95 to have your dispute posted publicly online. For $14.95 peopleclaim will also notify watchdogs, regulators and the media.
On 'scambook' it's also free to file a complaint, but you can pay $4.99 a month for a personal investigator to be assigned to your case--- who will mail certified letters to the company for you each month.
Of course, this is something consumers can do themselves. But as John Breyault of the National Consumers League points out, "These sites offer to step in and play that role for you."
Do these sites get results?
Scambook says, "We have resolved over $10 million in reported damages"
Peopleclaim says, "Far more than half the complaints filed are resolved."
Gripevine suggested asking customers like Neal. He says, "It's a very quick easy way to get your situation dealt with."
None of the companies provides mediators or legal services. Some of the dispute resolution companies say they know how to get your complaint through to key decision makers at companies-- and posting it on their website gives it greater visibility.
Peopleclaim says if the company you're complaining about doesn't respond to your public post in 90 days, it will refund your $7.95.