Solar energy retailer True Value Solar Pty Ltd (True Value Solar) has ceased offering its customers incentives for publishing positive online reviews, following an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Between February 2015 and September 2015, True Value Solar implemented a program of offering its customers a free solar panel service valued at $199 for publishing a review on the online review platform (Product Review).

The free solar panel service was only offered to customers who indicated that they had a positive experience with True Value Solar, and were therefore likely to provide a positive review. The offer of the incentive was not disclosed in the review.

“Businesses that offer incentives for unbalanced positive reviews risk misleading consumers and breaching the Australian Consumer Law,” ACCC Deputy Chair Dr Michael Schaper said.

“Online reviews provide consumers with important information based on the experiences of others. Consumers rightfully expect reviews to be genuine and independent to help them make informed purchasing decisions,” Dr Schaper said.

Following contact by the ACCC, True Value Solar immediately discontinued its incentives program. It also agreed that if it were to reintroduce a similar program in the future, incentives would be offered to all customers regardless of whether their review was a positive or a negative one, and the offering of the incentive would be prominently disclosed to readers of the review.

The ACCC investigated this matter after a consumer raised concerns about a significant increase in the number of positive reviews for True Value Solar on Product Review.

In 2013, the ACCC released best practice guidance about managing online reviews, which states that businesses should only offer incentives in exchange for reviews if:

  • the incentive is offered equally to consumers likely to be complimentary or 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.

The guidance is available at Online reviews - a guide for business and review platforms.