Consumers rely on online reviews to make purchasing decisions. Businesses and review platforms need to manage online reviews to prevent consumers from being misled.
Online reviews provide consumers with information about products, services and businesses based on the experiences of other consumers. Reviews may appear on a business’ own site, on social media or on a review platform. Review platforms are sites which specialise in presenting product reviews about a range of businesses. Consumers expect reviews to be independent and genuine to help them make more informed purchasing decisions.
Businesses and review platforms that do not remove reviews that they know to be fake risk breaching the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.
Reviews may mislead consumers if they are presented as impartial, but were written by:
- the reviewed business
- a competitor
- someone paid to write the review who has not used the product
- someone who has used the product but written an inflated review to receive a financial or non-financial benefit.
Tips for businesses
The ACCC considers conduct such as the following to be misleading. You should not:
- encourage family and friends to write reviews about your business without disclosing their personal connection with your business in that review
- write reviews when you have not experienced the good or service reviewed or which do not reflect a genuinely held opinion
- solicit others to write reviews about your business or a competitor’s business if they have not experienced the good or service.
Businesses that offer incentives to those who write positive reviews risk misleading consumers and breaching the CCA. Incentives should only be offered in exchange for reviews of your business (its products or services) if:
- incentives are offered equally to consumers likely to be complimentary and consumers likely to be critical, and positive and negative reviews are treated the same
- the reviewer is expressly told that the incentive is available whether the review is positive or negative
- the incentive is prominently disclosed to users who rely on affected reviews.
Commercial relationships between review platforms and businesses may influence the overall rating of a business on the site. For example, a review platform may allow businesses that advertise on the site to select a review to appear at the top of the page or prevent negative reviews from being automatically uploaded. This may mislead consumers by creating an impression that the business received more favourable reviews than it actually has. Disclosing commercial relationships between review platforms and businesses helps consumers make better informed decisions about the business and its products or services.
The number of reviews which form the basis of an aggregated (e.g. star) rating may be relevant to the weight which a site user gives to that aggregated rating. If an aggregated rating system is provided, it is recommended that consumer review platforms disclose the total number of reviews that the rating is based on next to the aggregated rating (e.g. 3 stars, 24 reviews).
Businesses and review platforms that selectively remove or edit reviews, particularly negative reviews, for commercial or promotional reasons may be misleading consumers. If the total body of reviews doesn’t reflect the opinions of consumers who have submitted the reviews consumers may be misled.
Content moderation policies of review platforms ensure users and businesses have a clear understanding of when and why online consumer reviews will be removed. It is recommended that consumer review platforms make their policy for publishing and removing consumer content accessible to platform users.
Businesses and review platforms may be able to identify fake reviews by those that are:
- part of a significant spike in reviews about a particular business over a limited period of time
- written from the same email or IP address as each other or as the business reviewed
- written about the same business, product or service where the reviewers’ accounts are very similar for example, similar email addresses, user names, passwords or IP addresses
- written in overly positive or “marketing speak” writing styles
- written in the same language as other reviews of the same business or product.
In 2011 the ACCC took action against removalist business Citymove for misleading online reviews. Citymove admitted to having made representations on its website that purported to be testimonials by genuine consumers when they were not. Citymove paid a $6600 infringement notice.
Online product reviews - for consumers