4. 3 stars out of 5: the average
product rating by consumers online
zation, received an A– rating after it
paid $425 for accreditation. Only then
was this Hamas revealed as a hoax. So
what exactly had the BBB accredited?
“We do have a procedure to screen
applications,” says William G. Mitchell, who heads southern California’s
BBB chapter. “The idea is that, based
on the information available, we want
to be able to express an opinion on the
reliability of that company.” Since the
BBB focuses on resolving complaints
against the worst businesses, he adds,
a nonexistent business is unlikely to
prompt much scrutiny.
And public information on any
business can be scant. “The vast ma-
jority are not regulated,” says Mitchell.
“There’s no government authority
that oversees their operation. They’re
not licensed by anybody.”
But if reviewers lack solid informa-
tion, then what is an A from the BBB—
or any rating on any website—really
worth? Most consumer sites let the
public make the grades, yet many
consumer advocates emphasize
that grades in general are not as
valuable as users’ comments.
ConsumerAffairs.com, an online
publisher supported by advertising,
posts thousands of consumer com-
ments on businesses—almost all of
them critical—but does not include
ratings. “When you start running
compliments or asking people to give
stars, you end up getting results that
are much more easily skewed,” says
editor in chief Jim Hood.
Kate Ashford writes about personal
finance and health from New York City.
Back of the Envelope
JESSE NEME TH); ILLUS TRATION B Y STEVE SANFORD. RATINGS SOURCE: BAZAARVOICE
FROM TOP: ILLUSTRATION BY CHI BIRMINGHAM; PHOTO: NICHOLAS EVELEIGH (PROP STYLIST:
28 AARP THE MAGAZINE