Another Online Retailer Thinks It Can Charge Customers For Complaining; Now Facing Lawsuit In New York
from the the-way-to-make-money-without-providing-products-or-services dept
KlearGear’s unprecedented $3,500 charge for customer complaints tossed whatever little reputation it had down the drain and it’s abusive actions earned it a $300,000 judgement when a former customer took it to court. Of course, the company only exists as a half-assed website and handful of remailing services. Someone named Vic Mathieu claimed the company is actually run by Descoteaux Boutiques out of France, and as such, is out of reach of the judgement.
The Consumerist has come across another online retailer that thinks it can charge customers if they even think about complaining, one that also has no real representatives and whose address is a UPS store.
If you were put off by KlearGear.com’s ridiculous “Non-Disparagement” fee, which penalizes customers for sharing their bad shopping experiences with the public, another online retailer is apparently trying to go one further, by not only banning customers from saying bad things online, but by also forbidding them from even bringing up the threat of a complaint or a credit card chargeback.
Buried at the bottom of the Terms page for OnlineAccessoryOutlet.com, you’ll find the following insanely overreaching stipulations (bolded for emphasis):
“You agree not to file any complaint, chargeback, claim, dispute, or make any public forum post, review, Better Business Bureau complaint, social media post, or any public statement regarding the order, our website, or any issue regarding your order, for any reason, within this 90 day period, or to threaten to do so within the 90 day period, or it is a breach of the terms of sale, creating liability for damages in the amount of $250, plus any additional fees, damages – both consequential and incidental, calculated on an ongoing basis.”
The Terms also claim the customer agrees that, even after the 90 days are up, the “sole method of dispute resolution in all cases… shall be binding arbitration to take place in New York City, with all expenses paid by the respective parties.”
Yes, this is from the same company that states this on its About Us page:
We stand behind every sale and make every effort to satisfy each customer. Our goal is to ensure each customer has the most pleasurable and stream-lined ordering process when using our site, and that they save the most money always.
Nothing about the company’s reputation backs that up. In addition to the experience of the customer filing a lawsuit against Accessory Outlet (with the assistance of Public Citizen — PDF link), numerous complaints can be found elsewhere on the web. Almost every complaint is the same: Accessory Outlet ships crappy knockoffs of name-brand products… if it ships anything at all. Customer service, what there is of it, largely consists of stalling tactics and threats.
There’s nothing customer-friendly about its Terms of Service and its return policy is just as antagonistic.
Final sale items may not be returned or exchanged for any reason – they are sold as-is, with all sales final… Additional Restrictions: All Lifeproof, Otterbox, Mophie and Apple brand products are not eligible for return or exchange for any reason. Special order, customized, or personalized items are not eligible for return or exchange for any reason. All cosmetic items are not eligible for return or exchange. All refurbished/reconditioned products are final sale, with no returns or exchanges permitted.
Oddly enough, Lifeproof, Otterbox and Apple products are the ones listed most in complaints. According to customers, these are not authentic products, but are cheap knockoffs with design issues and cosmetic flaws. Some are completely unusable.
Trying to cancel or modify an order after submitting will also trigger a $250 fee. “Breaching” the extremely restrictive return/exchange policy will do the same thing.
The ultimate problem here is not just the lousy products backed by worse policies enforced by truly abysmal human beings. It’s that Online Accessory Outlet is nothing more than a roving scam operation designed to take money from people in exchange for terrible products. The company has no real address, no real point of contact and has operated a variety of websites featuring the same products and policies. Everything posted on its site with the intent of touting its “trustworthiness” is a lie, as the Consumerist discovered.
For fun and giggles, we’ve written to the three other organizations touted on the site — Angie’s List, buySAFE, and Trusted Shops — to confirm that these endorsements are also false.
We’ve heard back from a rep for buySAFE, who confirmed that Accessory Outlet is not certified.
“The seal you see is an old, bad copy of a buySAFE seal,” explains the rep.
And a rep for Angie’s List says there is no way Accessory Outlet could have won a Super Service Award — which requires perfect scores — because it has no reviews on the site.
“They have no reviews, which equals no grade,” explains the Angie’s rep. “They aren’t SSA winners and shouldn’t be using the badge.”
And a rep for Trusted Shops, which does not certify companies in the U.S. says Accessory Outlet is definitely not certified by the service.
The lawsuit names “Accessory Outlet” at onlineaccessoryoutlet.com. But the Better Business Bureau — while noting that the company does not have the A+ rating it claims to on its website — lists two other URLs the company has used.
The first URL redirects to onlineaccessoryoutlet.com and the other to nothing at all. It has also done business as Acctown (also with an F rating from the BBB), which still has a functional website and carries much of the same wording in its Terms of Service (although there is a $50 price break — $200 instead of $250 for thinking about complaining). It may be even worse, considering simply using the website supposedly makes you subject to the terms and conditions.
You agree not to file or initiate any complaint, chargeback, dispute, public comment, forum post, website post, social media post, or any claim related to any transaction with our website and/or company. By using our website, making any purchase, or conducting any transaction with us, you agree to all terms and conditions stated herein. Any action in breach of this agreement that causes reversal of any payment in full or in part shall result in a collections action for the full or partial order total (the amount reversed) plus an additional $50. You agree that any breach of this agreement shall also constitute liability in the amount of $200 plus any related costs directly or indirectly relating from any such breach. These costs shall be collected using a collections agency and/or civil action in New York. You agree that the exclusive forum for any dispute or claim relating to any transaction conducted through our website shall be New York.
Acctown also has its own set of complaints about shoddy products and orders that never arrived.
The current address for Online Accessory Outlet is a remailer. Its contact person (found through complaint sites, not its actual site) is likely as authentic as the glowing 5-star reviews artificially pumping up its rating (as True Accessory) at TrustPilot. Roger Klein, the supposed “Marketing Director” of True Accessory/Online Accessory Outlet updated the company’s Manta profile at some point, claiming it’s been in business since 2011. True Accessory’s history at the Internet Archive only traces back to early 2014, which is in line with the complaints filed. (Feb. 2014 is the first archived version. Complaints begin piling up in March.) The horrendous terms of service went into place almost immediately, although the fees started at $200 rather than $250. Despite the website being shut down, a Facebook page for True Accessory (sporting a very suspicious 2,158 likes) is still live, though apparently unattended.
Unlike KlearGear, contact through email has been successful for customers with complaints, although those complaints are met with threats. (Its only listed phone number now simply states “Customer service is not available” and dumps you directly into voice mail.) From the lawsuit:
Accessory Outlet emailed Cox back, stating that Cox would face a $250 penalty for contacting her credit card company, that Accessory Outlet would send her account to a collections agency, and that “[t]his will put a negative mark on your credit for 7 years and will also result in calls to your home and/or work.” The email continued: “Further, additional fees for any correspondence with your card issuer will also be billed to you on an hourly basis and a flat rate $50 fee for the dispute or claim.”
A later email was even more direct about the company’s desire to punish Cox for complaining.
Contact your lawyer, spend more time and money if you wish. You will be billed and the amount we will bill you for will continue to rise with every email and every second we dedicate to correspondence of any kind pertaining to your breach of the terms of sale. Thank you.
The problem with pursuing shady companies like this is that there’s no one to hold accountable. Multiple addresses and multiple URLs suggest someone’s trying to make as much money as they can before being forced to bury one name and resurface as a “new” business. So, all you can do is try to steer people away from these companies. The Streisand Effect is greatly blunted when the entity on the other end obviously doesn’t care what customers think of them, just as long as it attracts enough suckers to make its sales of cheap knockoffs profitable.