The Most Hated Industries of 2010

Seth Fiegerman

If there's one thing consumers love to do more than shop, it's to complain when the shopping experience goes wrong. The Internet has only made it worse -- or better, depending on what side of the transaction you're on.

Consumers in the U.S. and Canada filed 1.1 million complaints against businesses in 2010, according to data released this month from the Better Business Bureau, a 10% increase from the year before, after having increased by nearly as much each of the two previous years.

The financial and automotive industries experienced the biggest year-over-year growth in complaints, but it was the companies selling everyday products like electronics that garnered the most complaints overall.

"Industries that do a large volume of business are naturally going to have a larger number of complaints. This is why it's important to look at how a company responded when BBB approached them with consumer complaints, and not just the sheer number of complaints," said Stephen A. Cox, president and CEO of the BBB, in a press release.

MainStreet analyzed the BBB data to bring you to the 10 most complained about industries of 2010. Let us know which industries give you the most grief in our comments section.


1. Television -- Cable & Satellite

Total complaints: 30,985
Change, 2009-2010: -5%
Complaints resolved: 98.6%

As the BBB spokesperson points out, the cable and cellphone industries have been battling each other for the top position on this list in the last couple years. The wireless industry won out in 2009 but last year, television earned the infamous spot of being the most complained about industry. For both industries, it boils down to the simple reality that the products offered are found in every household and by virtue of being so common, are also more likely to have more complaints.

Of course, there is certainly no shortage of consumer horror stories about the cable industry, ranging from flawed installations to being tacked with extra charges on the monthly service bill. But to the industry's credit, cable companies have tried hard to maintain their reputation and please their customers by being responsive to the complaints levied against them. For this reason, even though there were more complaints about this industry than any other in 2010, it also had the highest percentage of complaints resolved of any on the list. Let's just call that a bittersweet victory.

2. Cellphone Service & Equipment

Total complaints: 27,293
Change, 2009-2010: -29.6%
Complaints resolved: 92.1%

The cellphone industry has rocketed to the top of the list in recent years as more consumers in the U.S. and Canada have embraced mobile technology. While the number of complaints has declined significantly from the year before, the industry still employs a number of dubious business practices that aggravate consumers, like tacking on hidden activation fees and raising the already hefty financial penalties for terminating a contract early.

3. Auto Dealers -- New Cars

Total complaints: 24,698
Change, 2009-2010: -8.1%
Complaints resolved: 87.4%

New car dealers generally rank among the most complained-about industries, which should come as little surprise given the high price tag of new cars and all the variables that can go wrong. Last year, the number of complaints declined by nearly a tenth, which may just be due to the simple fact that fewer consumers were buying cars.


4. Banks

Total complaints: 22,648
Change, 2009-2010: -24.3%
Complaints resolved: 98.2%

For all the news about banks imposing higher fees to generate bigger profits, complaints against banks are actually on the decline -- of almost 25% from 2009 to 2010. Perhaps part of the reason is that banks generally have very responsive customer service, as evidenced by their near perfect record of resolving consumer complaints. Sure, they may anger customers sometimes, but at least they do better than most in responding to complaints.

5. Collection Agencies

Total complaints: 15,876
Change, 2009-2010: .5%
Complaints resolved: 80.2%

Not only did collection agencies prompt nearly 16,000 complaints to the BBB, they also caused tens of thousands more complaints to the Federal Trade Commission. Debt collectors have been particularly aggressive in the last year as many consumers struggle to put their finances in order following the recession. Many of the complaints leveled against debt collectors allege that they violate legal guidelines and threaten consumers with foul language and even physical violence.


6. Used Car Dealers

Total complaints: 14,520
Change, 2009-2010: 6.1%
Complaints resolved: 70.6%

Used car dealers are notorious for duping consumers, and the number of complaints certainly supports this perception.

7. Auto Repair & Service

Total complaints: 13,178
Change, 2009-2010: 3.5%
Complaints resolved: 65.6%

Aside from the e-commerce industry, auto repair had the lowest percentage of resolved complaints on the list.

Read the full list of The Most Hated Industries of 2010


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