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Be careful using Angie’s List, consumer group warns

Worker Getting Ready to Remodel HouseAngie’s List, an online rating service, has many shortcomings in addition to potential value to consumers, according to a Consumer Federation of America report.

Angie’s List, founded in 1995, was originally supported mainly by annual consumer subscriptions and prioritized service to these subscribers. Today, while consumers can join for free, Angie’s List gets almost all its revenue from advertising purchased by some of the local businesses that the online service lists and rates. Angie’s List recommends and gives preferential treatment to these advertisers and that can easily mislead consumers into thinking these businesses are the best ones and should be selected.

The report, “Angie’s List: An Evaluation of Its Usefulness for Consumers” shows that these profiled businesses are often not those rated the most highly by consumers and by a nonprofit rating group.

The report’s findings:

  • Angie’s List is subject to conflicts of interest because it’s supported almost entirely by payments from the businesses it evaluates.
  • A large majority of businesses rated on Angie’s List are given the same “A” rating, making it difficult for consumers actually to identify the best businesses.
  • A number of businesses with fewer than five consumer reviews, some with only one review, receive an “A” grade.
  • There is circumstantial evidence that some businesses have arranged for the submission of fake reviews.
  • Angie’s List doesn’t provide reliable information, based on actual price shopping, about which businesses charge the lowest prices.
  • Businesses that advertise on Angie’s List have advantages over non-advertisers in listing placements, characterization, and the ability to have negative reviews deleted.
  • Only those businesses that pay to advertise on Angie’s list are recommended as “top-rated pros.”
  • Advertisers are always listed first on those pages listing all businesses providing a specific type of service.
  • Advertisers are given information about consumer users in order to market directly to these consumers, and some of these businesses do so immediately through phone calls and/or emails.

Angie’s List can offer value to consumers who are willing to provide their personal information for advertiser marketing and are willing to search carefully for useful information on the website, according to the report. In using Angie’s List, consumers should ignore Angie’s List’s recommended and profiled companies and, instead, look only at the customer reviews of all A-rated businesses with at least 25 recent reviews, paying closest attention to detailed comments and to negative reviews. Angie’s List shouldn’t be the only source of information in selecting a service provider.

“When possible, consumers should rely on nonprofit organizations that evaluate businesses and are not funded by the companies they are evaluating,” said Stephen Brobeck, a federation senior fellow, and the report’s co-author. “But when these organizations are not available, shoppers can benefit by consulting a variety of information sources, including the detailed consumer comments on Angie’s List.”

The report emphasizes that, in joining Angie’s List, consumers open themselves up to email and phone marketing by Angie’s List advertisers, who aren’t necessarily the best businesses offering a particular service. To join, consumers provide personal information including name, phone number, street address, and email address. A consumer trades his or her privacy and access to advertisers for their own access to the millions of consumer reviews collected by Angie’s List.

“While advertised as free, there is a price consumers pay for joining Angie’s List,” said Jack Gillis, the federation’s executive director, and the report’s co-author. “Consumers must submit personal information and then expect phone calls and emails from advertisers.”

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