What started with one NBC5 Responds viewer complaint about peeling furniture has now skyrocketed to more than 500 complaints and the recovery of just more than $125,000 for viewers.
Since the day of our first report, NBC 5 Responds has received complaints almost every day about bonded leather furniture bought at retailers in and around Chicago, and has helped recover just north of $125,000 for viewers who say their furniture failed them.
For Karen Figgins, it started on the couch, then the recliner, and she says it spread like wildfire.
“Within six to eight weeks it was coming off in sheets,” Figgins told NBC 5 Responds.
The Elgin woman bought a three-piece bonded leather furniture set for $2,400 from The RoomPlace in 2012. A little more than a year later, she says she called the retailer to complain, but was unable to get help.
“I got nowhere withThe RoomPlace. Once I saw your story, I was like, ok, I’m going to jump on that bandwagon,” Figgins said.
Leather experts tell NBC 5 Responds a collective cry for help is long overdue, calling bonded leather deceptive, at best, adding that bonded leather is not durable enough to be used for furniture at all. Upholsterers added it is impossible to fix.
"They told me it was going to be more durable than regular leather, so it wouldn't scratch, wouldn't puncture," Figgins recalled.
The Leather Industries of America trade group accuses some retailers of misleading consumers by not disclosing that bonded leather is not real leather, and that it is made up of leather scraps, fiber and plastic bonding material. The industry group says it all comes from China and is subject to few U.S. rules.
Federal guidelines say bonded leather products must disclose the percentage of leather and non-leather substances used. That information is supposed to be stamped on or attached to the product by label. While there is no minimum required, the leather industry tells NBC 5 Responds some of its testing, done for higher end stores, shows bonded leather is 15-20% leather scraps, by weight. By comparison, European standards call for a minimum of 50% leather fiber.
"Instead of saying look, we now realize it's defective and not as durable as we thought it was, at least come clean about it,” Figgins said.
Despite the fact Figgins did not have an extended warranty, The RoomPlace agreed to give her $1,000 in store credit. The retailer says according to its records,the first it heard of Figgins’ troubles was from NBC5 Responds.
In a statement, The RoomPlace thanked NBC 5 Responds for bringing these issues to the retailer’s attention, adding that they are committed to customer service and satisfaction. After our first report aired, The RoomPlace said a multi-stage process improvement plan was launched in partnership with its extended warranty provider, and said it includes Customer Service management teams reviewing customer claims and denials to ensure a proper response.
On Thursday, the retailer went a step further.
“We work to offer a range of products, styles and price points to meet our customers needs and budgets. Part of our assortment includes bonded leather products which provide a cost effective alternative to genuine leather furniture,” the RoomPlace said in a statement. “What we have learned from your recent stories, is that we can provide even more information to our customers during the sale process. Beginning this month we will begin providing a brochure to customers explaining the best way to care for blended leather merchandise to extend the useful life of this product.”
Other retailers including Darvin Furniture, Ashley Furniture and Value City have also responded to some of the complaints shared with them by NBC5 Responds viewers, offering store credit, gift cards and exchanges. The retailers all tell NBC5 Responds they are evaluating each and every claim individually, as well as talking to manufacturers about the quality of bonded leather products in general.