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by Ron Burley, AARP, February 4, 2009
After our story last fall about the hard-sell tactics and unresponsive service of the Web site provider, StoresOnline, we received 28 “me too” complaints about the company from AARP members.
Elizabeth Jardine of Missoula, Mont., wrote:
I attended a StoresOnline workshop, where I was pressured into buying six Web sites. The high pressure “closer” promised to help me. I called several times and never got a response. The Web sites remain unbuilt. I spent about $4,500 dollars and now pay almost $180 a month on a loan with 15 percent interest. This payment eats up money I could use for health insurance through my employer.
Terry Greenstein of Wichita, Kan., wrote:
I, too, fell for the StoresOnline pitch. I am now in debt for $10,393, with no foreseeable way out.
Marda Larson of Gilbert, Ariz., wrote:
My son’s job is in computers. He attended the seminar with me and even HE cannot figure out how to set up these Web sites.
The other letters related similar stories of quick contract signings, unfulfilled promises, and relentless add-on offers. The money at stake in all the additional complaints was well north of $100,000.
Once again, I contacted Jeffrey Korn, the corporate attorney for iMergent, the parent company of StoresOnline. I told him about what I see as a pattern of behavior by his company’s sales and service teams.
Korn’s initial response was that there was no way his firm was going to hand out refunds to that many additional clients. He offered to review each case and to make individual decisions. Yet over the course of several follow-up telephone calls, Korn saw the light, agreeing to grant full refunds to the 28 customers.
He also agreed to review StoresOnline’s sales methods and to consider individual customers’ future requests for refunds that reach StoresOnline after its 15-day refund window expires. (Is 15 days enough time for any customer to evaluate a Web-hosting or design company? I recommended a six-month window, but that was rejected.)
A week before Christmas, I was able to send out an e-mail announcing the impending refunds to all 28 members. Over the next couple of weeks, StoresOnline made good on its pledge.
StoresOnline deserves credit for agreeing to make the refunds. I am convinced, though, that the company has issues with overpromising results and underperforming on customer service. StoresOnline also shares the names of its clients with partner firms, which in turn try to sell expensive “enhancements” to neophyte Web entrepreneurs. I will continue to pursue refunds for our readers from these partner companies.
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