An investigation by the BBB has revealed a connection between three online furniture retailers in the metro area which have all been the subject of customer complaints: Wholesale Modern Design, Light Grey Design and Urban Hom. After completing their investigation, the BBB has merged the three companies into one entity - Wholesale Modern Design - which has earned an F rating due to a pattern of complaints, as well as unanswered complaints.
Customer complaints generally allege that after paying the company - in some cases thousands of dollars upfront - there were lengthy delays in shipping or their furniture never arrived at all.
In some cases, complainants who were unhappy with the delays requested and were promised refunds by the company. However, customers in those situations have reported the company didn't meet promised deadlines, with some saying the company failed to provide their refunds. Currently, Wholesale Modern Design has 14 unanswered complaints on file with the BBB, in addition to 8 unresolved complaints. Other complaints are pending.
"A company using multiple names to avoid detection of problematic behavior is an instant red flag," stated Dana Badgerow, President and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. "We believed that was what was happening with these three companies, and our investigation confirmed they are one and the same."
The BBB first suspected the companies were connected when a staffer noticed that Wholesale Modern Design and Light Grey Design had nearly identical websites, with both sites offering the same Gold, Silver and Bronze shipping options. The companies also have identical voicemail messages, and the website of Urban Hom, which was the first of these entities to attract the BBB's attention, redirects to the website of Light Grey Design.
The businesses list an address in Rogers, Minnesota, which the BBB has confirmed is a UPS store location. Shane McLaughlin, the owner and operator of all three businesses, is listed as Administrative and Technical contact for each of the companies' websites. His personal Facebook profile refers to himself as the CEO and founder of Light Grey Design; however, his contact information is listed as firstname.lastname@example.org
, and www.urbanhom.com
is the website listed. The same Facebook profile also directs visitors to still another company called Wholesale Living. This company's Facebook page contains several consumer posts warning others about the business's tactics. McLaughlin is also listed as co-owner of M&M Custom Sprinklers, a company that also has an F rating with the BBB for failure to respond to complaints.
Additionally, the BBB believes that each of these virtual companies operate from call centers and take orders over the phone or electronically. However, they do not stock furniture but rather drop-ship items from unknown offshore sources. The websites offer the same merchandise, with identical item numbers, but the prices vary. For instance, a sectional with recliners sells on the Wholesale Modern Design's site for $1852.96, while the same item sells on Light Grey Design's website for $1927.83.The companies also offer "Ribbon Gift Card Collection," sets of furniture gift cards sold with a very small discount; for example, a $100 gift card sells for $98.39. None of the company names are currently registered with the Minnesota Secretary of State's Office.
The BBB offer the following tips for safe and secure online shopping:
- If you're interested in trying a new online merchant who you're not familiar with, ask the company for its physical location (address and phone number) so that you can check on its reliability with outside organizations like the BBB (bbb.org) and consumer agencies.
- Determine the company's refund and return policies before you place an order. If online companies can't offer concrete commitments on how they will handle potential problems you may have with their products or services, reconsider doing business with them.
- Use a trustworthy escrow service.
- Before making an order, be clear on the price and any shipping and handling charges. Know the terms of any product or service guarantees. Find out how long it will be before you receive your order. Federal law requires that goods and services be delivered within 30 days, unless a different delivery period is specifically stated by the merchant.
- Keep a Paper Trail. Print out the "address" of the company site you are on—it's Uniform Resource Locator (URL). It's also a good idea to print out a copy of your order and confirmation number for your records.
- Know Your Rights. The same laws that protect you when you shop by phone or mail apply when you shop in cyberspace. If you decide to pay by credit card or charge card, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. If you are not comfortable entering your credit or charge card account number online, call the company directly and ask to speak to a representative.