The Most Hated Industries of 2010

Businesses We Love to Hate

If there’s one thing consumers love to do more than shop, it’s to complain when the shopping experience goes wrong. The Internet has only made it worse – or better, depending on what side of the transaction you’re on. Consumers in the U.S. and Canada filed 1.1 million complaints against  businesses in 2010, according to data released this month from the Better Business Bureau, a 10% increase from the year before, after having increased by nearly as much each of the two previous years. The financial and automotive industries experienced the biggest year-over-year growth in complaints, but it was the companies selling everyday products like electronics that garnered the most complaints overall. “Industries that do a large volume of business are naturally going to have a larger number of complaints. This is why it’s important to look at how a company responded when BBB approached them with consumer complaints, and not just the sheer number of complaints,” said Stephen A. Cox, president and CEO of the BBB, in a press release. MainStreet analyzed the BBB data to bring you to the 10 most complained about industries of 2010. Let us know which industries give you the most grief in our comments section. Photo Credit: Wikimedia.org


10. Mortgage Brokers

While mortgage brokers placed 10th on the list for overall complaints, this industry experienced the steepest increase from year to year, as the number of complaints jumped by 17.8% between 2009 and 2010. According to a spokesperson for the BBB, the increase was likely tied to the general instability in the housing market, particularly as millions of Americans continued to face the risk of foreclosure and struggled to renegotiate the terms of their mortgage. In fact, the spokesperson told MainStreet that consumers called the BBB more often to inquire about the business practices and guidelines of this industry than almost any other, a further sign of the tension between mortgage brokers and consumers. Total Complaints: 9,545 Change, 2009-2010: 17.8% Complaints resolved: 81% Photo Credit: Getty Images


9. Internet Shopping

Record numbers of consumers shopped online last year, particularly during the holiday season, but only a small amount of shoppers file complaints about this industry, hinting at the possibility that online businesses are getting better and perhaps more importantly, that consumers are getting savvier at picking out reputable companies. That said, the Internet shopping industry had the lowest rate of resolved complaints of any company on this list, meaning that a greater percentage of online companies failed to settle disputes with consumers. According to the BBB spokesperson, one contributing factor that is unique to online retailers is that consumers end up unknowingly shopping from a company that is actually located outside North America, or a company that only pretends to be a reputable business, each of which makes it all the more difficult to resolve a complaint. Total complaints: 12,950 Change, 2009-2010: -39.8% Complaints resolved: 61.4% Photo Credit: Amazon.com


8. Retail Furniture

Complaints about retail furniture companies remained effectively unchanged from the year before. But furniture prices have been on a gradual decline in recent months, so perhaps consumers will have fewer complaints against in the industry in 2011. Total complaints: 13,018 Change, 2009-2010: -1.1% Complaints resolved: 79.1% Photo Credit: Rennett Stowe


7. Auto Repair & Service

Aside from the e-commerce industry, auto repair had the lowest percentage of resolved complaints on the list. Total complaints: 13,178 Change, 2009-2010: 3.5% Complaints resolved: 65.6% Photo Credit: Aresauburn


6. Used Car Dealers

Used car dealers are notorious for duping consumers, and the number of complaints certainly supports this perception. To avoid a situation where you feel the need to complain about the dealer, follow MainStreet’s advice on how to shop a used car lot. Total complaints: 14,520 Change, 2009-2010: 6.1% Complaints resolved: 70.6% Photo Credit: LancerE


5. Collection Agencies

Not only did collection agencies prompt nearly 16,000 complaints to the BBB, they also caused tens of thousands more complaints to the Federal Trade Commission. Debt collectors have been particularly aggressive in the last year as many consumers struggle to put their finances in order following the recession. Many of the complaints leveled against debt collectors allege that they violate legal guidelines and threaten consumers with foul language and even physical violence. Total complaints: 15,876 Change, 2009-2010: .5% Complaints resolved: 80.2% Photo Credit: meddygarnet


4. Banks

For all the news about banks imposing higher fees to generate bigger profits, complaints against banks are actually on the decline – of almost 25% from 2009 to 2010. Perhaps part of the reason is that banks generally have very responsive customer service, as evidenced by their near perfect record of resolving consumer complaints. Sure, they may anger customers sometimes, but at least they do better than most in responding to complaints. Total complaints: 22,648 Change, 2009-2010: -24.3% Complaints resolved: 98.2% Photo Credit: betsssssy


3. Auto Dealers - New Cars

New car dealers generally rank among the most complained-about industries, which should come as little surprise given the high price tag of new cars and all the variables that can go wrong. Last year, the number of complaints declined by nearly a tenth, which may just be due to the simple fact that fewer consumers were buying cars. Total complaints: 24,698 Change, 2009-2010: -8.1% Complaints resolved: 87.4% Photo Credit: ryantxr


2. Cellphone Service & Equipment

The cellphone industry has rocketed to the top of the list in recent years as more consumers in the U.S. and Canada have embraced mobile technology. While the number complaints has declined significantly from the year before, the industry still employs a number of dubious business practices that aggravate consumers, like tacking on hidden activation fees and raising the already hefty financial penalties for terminating a contract early. Total complaints: 27,293 Change, 2009-2010: -29.6% Complaints resolved: 92.1% Photo Credit: magerleagues


1. Television – Cable & Satellite

As the BBB spokesperson points out, the cable and cellphone industries have been battling each other for the top position on this list in the last couple years. The wireless industry won out in 2009 but last year, television earned the infamous spot of being the most complained about industry. For both industries, it boils down to the simple reality that the products offered are found in every household and by virtue of being so common, are also more likely to have more complaints. Of course, there is certainly no shortage of consumer horror stories about the cable industry, ranging from flawed installations to being tacked with extra charges on the monthly service bill. But to the industry’s credit, cable companies have tried hard to maintain their reputation and please their customers by being responsive to the complaints levied against them. For this reason, even though there were more complaints about this industry than any other in 2010, it also had the highest percentage of complaints resolved of any on the list. Let’s just call that a bittersweet victory. Total complaints: 30,985 Change, 2009-2010: -5% Complaints resolved: 98.6% Photo Credit: Schmilblick


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