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It's a BBB page like no other.
This baby’s got everything: links to six company social media accounts; a Twitter feed featuring positive tweets from the CEO; and a note that seemingly attempts to shield this Idaho-based wellness Multilevel Marketing – a way of distributing products or services in which the distributors earn income from their own retail sales and from retail sales made by their direct and indirect recruits. from consumer complaints.
By several measures, the Melaleuca BBB page more resembles the company’s website than an independent business review. But in truth such bells and whistles are not uncommon on the pages of BBB accredited businesses, which pay the nonprofit hundreds to thousands of dollars for accreditation (while the BBB, in turn, tells consumers to “Trust BBB Accredited Businesses”). Accredited businesses like Melaleuca are given several options to pimp their pages, including social media promotion, that are not afforded to their non-paying, unaccredited peers.
There is, however, one aspect of the Melaleuca BBB page that appears to be entirely its own (and which initially prompted TINA.org to wonder whether the BBB page was simply one glorified ad for Melaleuca, hence the headline Ad or Not). And that feature is this unusual disclaimer positioned directly under a complaints summary categorizing 249 consumer grievances against Melaleuca (emphasis added):
This report reflects National as well as International complaint activity. Due to the fact that all complaints regarding the independent marketing executives and the business are processed by our BBB, the number of complaints is not an unusual volume or pattern of complaints for this type of business.
Based on Melaleuca’s business structure, TINA.org took “this type of business” to mean an MLM (though Melaleuca adamantly disputes the label). But the note does not appear on the BBB pages of at least 15 other MLMs, including Avon, which had a comparable 176 complaints. (And while 10 of the 15 companies that TINA.org reviewed were BBB accredited, only one — Kyani — embedded a Twitter feed like Melaleuca).
Dale Dixon, president and CEO of the BBB serving the Snake River Region in Idaho, where Melaleuca is headquartered, said in an email that the disclaimer was added in response to questions received from the public. Dixon said Melaleuca, a winner of the BBB Torch Award, did not request that it be added. He wrote:
The language clarifies complaint volume in relation to number of customers. Melaleuca reports revenues in excess of $1B/year. If you know of a similarly structured business in Idaho of that size and volume, please let me know.
So because Melaleuca is a large company with lots of “customers,” it gets a disclaimer on its BBB page seemingly shielding it from “the number of complaints” submitted against it. Why then doesn’t Walmart, the world’s largest retailer with 3,555 BBB consumer complaints — a small number considering the company has nearly 5,000 stores in the U.S. — have the same disclaimer? Or tech giant Apple, which has fewer complaints than Walmart?
Not a consumer watchdog
The Melaleuca BBB page serves as a reminder to consumers that the BBB is not a consumer watchdog but a mediator between aggrieved consumers and companies, with ratings largely based on how a company responds to customers who complain within the BBB’s own system. It also shows how a paying, accredited business can use marketing tools on its BBB page in ways that a non-paying, unaccredited business can’t.
Consumers should make the BBB one stop among many when checking out a company. And a good BBB rating should not be the end-all, be-all. A TINA.org investigation into BBB-listed companies that faced FTC action in 2016 found that nearly a quarter had an A-range rating following a complaint or settlement.
Find more of our coverage on the BBB here.
A master list of known and alleged scams.
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