To celebrate its Centennial and 100 years of fostering marketplace trust between businesses and consumers, Better Business Bureau (BBB) executives and guests visited the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on July 27, 2012 to ring the closing bell.
100 years ago, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) was founded. Picture it – a time when the majority of roads in North America were made of dirt. A car of any make or model was a luxury item that few people had, as were home telephones. Gas averaged just seven cents a gallon, and you could buy a loaf of bread for a nickel.
These were also the days of snake oil salesman. Shoddy products and services were commonplace. Consumer protection and marketplace self regulation were scarce to nonexistent. Consumers were tempted by businesses advertising everything from electric hairbrushes to cure headaches to dimple makers to put a crease in your cheek, and everything in between. The only limitations placed on advertising seemed to be the imagination! There was little to no truth in advertising. The year was 1912, and upheaval – both socially and in the marketplace – was in full swing and the consumer movement was taking root.
Tired of the deceptive advertising practices and false claims running rampant in the marketplace, a group of concerned business people started a campaign in 1909 on behalf of higher ethical standards in advertising. By 1911 this campaign had become a crusade for the Associated Advertising Clubs of America, the forerunner to the American Advertising Federation. As a part of this effort, vigilance committees were created to investigate alleged misrepresentations, eliminate abuses and create advertising codes and standards to help advertisers regulate themselves. Spurred on by the success of these committees, in 1912, the Associated Advertising Clubs of America decided to form a National Vigilance Committee to focus on regional and national advertising. Thus was born the organization which became the National Better Business Bureau of the Associated Advertising Clubs and later, simply, the Better Business Bureau.
At that time the BBB was created to set and uphold standards for ethical business behavior. This is the foundation the BBB was built upon, and it’s the foundation that will carry it into the future.
The BBB exists to help consumers find trustworthy businesses and make smarter buying decisions. True to its iconic torch symbol, the BBB illuminates the marketplace. In a gray world of what is right or wrong, the BBB provides concrete, objective information. The BBB is a highly recognized champion for trust, and our torch and respected name is a highly recognized. It is something that people believe in.
There’s no question about it, the marketplace has changed significantly since our founding 100 years ago. In some cases, technology has made those “gray” areas even grayer. Consumers are overwhelmed with choices often being exposed to thousands of advertising messages daily.
Consumers today have access to more information than ever before, and interactions between a buyer and seller have changed more than we could have ever imagined 100 years ago. However, despite these changes the need for an honest, ethical marketplace has remained a constant. In fact, many argue that trust is more important now than ever before.
The recent corporate and political scandals, the proliferation of scams and the general uncertainty on Wall Street have greatly impacted consumer confidence and trust. In fact, Reuters research conducted in August 2011 indicated that consumer sentiment has fallen to the lowest level in more than three decades. Consumers are cautious, hesitant and uncertain, and it’s reflected in both consumer spending and consumer confidence.
The BBB is not surprised by this trend. Over the last five years, the BBB has witnessed an increase in both the number of BBB Business Reviews requested and the number of complaints filed. In 2010, consumers requested 87 million BBB Business Reviews – that’s an increase of 78 percent over the number of BBB Business Reviews requested just five years before. On average, more than six million people visit bbb.org each month. The number of complaints filed also has increased dramatically. In 2010, the BBB processed more than 1.1 million complaints – in comparison to approximately 850,000 complaints in 2006.
This skepticism – and general discontent with the marketplace – is responsible for a new breed of consumer. More empowered than ever before, the consumer of today is grounded firmly in reality. Frustrated by an overwhelming number of marketing and media messages, today’s consumer values authenticity, honesty, integrity, reality and trust, and they expect these same values in the companies with which they choose to do business. Their lifestyle is one of hard work, family, common sense and community. These are people who value “values,” place priority on right vs. wrong and take pride in making smart decisions. These consumers are doing their homework and want to make sure they are working with businesses that value the same things they do.
BBB Accredited Businesses are those businesses. When a consumer does business with a BBB Accredited Business, they have confidence that the company is committed to honest and ethical business practices. The BBB provides comfort to the consumer, and credibility to the business. The BBB is widely revered and respected because it has held true to its core values over time. From the very beginning, 100 years ago, the BBB has been at the forefront of promoting a fair and ethical marketplace. This legacy and matters of integrity are part of the BBB brand promise. No doubt it is why virtually everyone (98% in a national survey) knows of the BBB.