As if we needed further proof that the United States is a nation of
demanding shopaholics, the PR pipeline is gushing with news of
innovative technologies and services promising to empower consumers and enhance their experience. In May it was Ebay's move to offer a
paging service that can instantly alert auction fans when they've been
outbid on that plastic John Lennon figurine or some other must-have item.
And now, it's the June 1 debut of Complain.com, a site that aims to
address consumer dissatisfaction. CEO Steven Ericsson-Zenith calls it
"a letter writing service with leverage."
If you think you've been ripped off or unfairly treated in some way, you
can post a note to Complain.com, and -- for $19.95 -- the service will find
the "customer care executive" and the CEO of the company that failed to
serve you well and pen a finger-wagging letter on your behalf. Complain.com sends you the letters, so you can include any supporting evidence for your claim. If the letters don't work, Complain.com will send faxes. And if that doesn't work? You're out 20 bucks.
It sounds a little pricey for hunting down the CEO and tapping out your
troubles on the keyboard. But Complain.com expects to build a reputation
with retailers, credit bureaus and the like, so that its letters will carry
extra clout. And, when it gets an executive's ear, Complain.com will
suggest that the company that caused your pain reimburse you for using
the service. Eventually, the site hopes to offer legal assistance -- or at
least a bevy of loud complainers who will call and harass those CEOs on
your behalf. Still, it doesn't sound too different from that old standard,
the Better Business
Bureau and its dispute resolution service.
But wait -- there's more! Consumer advocate David Horowitz (who is not the same person as neoconservative Salon columnist David Horowitz) is also getting
into the picture with his FightBack Web site, promising to
"facilitate the resolution of consumer problems!" And Complain To Us offers a similar
service, with a very hands-on approach: writing, faxing, e-mailing,
calling -- whatever it takes to get your problem solved -- at a cost of
$50 an hour.
With everyone and their brother trying to emulate Ebay and Amazon.com by
setting up auction and e-commerce sites all over the Web, maybe it's only
natural that another group would rush behind them to set up consumer
complaint shacks. At least the next time there's an outage at Ebay -- or, God forbid, the paging service fails to alert you and you miss out on that Lennon doll -- you'll know where to write.