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5 Companies That Treat Their Customers Like Crap

We should all steer clear of anti-consumer companies like Ticketmaster and Delta Airlines.

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Each year there are some companies that are winners and some that are losers for consumers; some that do the right thing, and some that screw over their customers to make a buck.

With this in mind, Consumer Reports publishes its annual “Naughty or Nice” list of companies that had either really good or really bad customer policies over the past year. As CR editor Tod Marks says in a video accompanying this year’s list, “The list is a thumbs up or thumbs down on a specific company policy. To be clear, it’s not that we’re rating the company. We want to underscore some really great – and some not so great – policies.”

Consumer Reports may be criticizing individual policies, not companies at large, but many of the names on the 2012 “naughty” list have consumer problems that go far beyond, say, a confusing return policy. So let’s take a look at some of the companies that made this year’s naughty list, and examine why consumers should be wary of them in general. Though hardly comprehensive, this expanded list can help steer consumers away from some of the more terrible companies and policies out there.

1. Ticketmaster. Charging customers ridiculous fees simply to take possession of the tickets they purchase. Who could that be but Ticketmaster? According to CR, customers can either pay $2.50 to print a ticket from their own computer or $14.50 for expedited shipping. (Otherwise tickets may not arrive by snail mail for 10-14 days – not enough time for many event-goers.)

That policy is absurd, no question. But as anyone who’s gone to even a few concerts or other large events over the past decade or two knows, Ticketmaster’s sins extend far beyond its egregious fees (which also include high “convenience” and “service” fees).

In 2010 the Justice Department gave the OK for Ticketmaster, the nation’s biggest ticket seller, to merge with Live Nation, the world’s biggest concert promoter, creating the mega-company Live Nation Entertainment. As part of the massive $889 million deal, the companies had to agree to take the unusual step of spinning off competing companies so the new entity would not technically be a monopoly. But as many consumer advocates have noted, the deal is still terribly anti-consumer.

Ticketmaster also has a long history of lobbying for anti-scalping laws around the country. The company has its own astroturf group, the Fans First Coalition, which does legislative battle against a group backed by StubHub, the largest legal ticket resale site. While it’s true that the existence of scalpers can ratchet up prices for individual concert-goers, watchdog groups like National Consumers League have ultimately come down on the side of the scalpers on this one, arguing that Ticketmaster’s plan to limit the free trade of tickets would be even worse for consumers.

Ticketmaster’s attempts to play a central role in every aspect of every ticket purchase in America have prompted performers like Louis C.K. to try new models for selling tickets in a fair way. C.K. cut Ticketmaster out of his 39-city U.S. tour earlier this year by selling tickets directly from his Web site. In doing so, he also lobbed a blow at StubHub and individual scalpers, since the tickets could not be resold. His straightforward approach to selling tickets may not work for all artists (despite his popularity, C.K. made less than he would’ve if he’d used the corporate middleman), but it received high praise from his fans.

2. Forever 21. At Forever 21, Consumer Reports again highlights a significant anti-consumer policy: “If you return an online order to a retail location, you can only exchange the item or obtain store credit. If you mail it back, you can get an actual refund,” the publication reports.