Recently the ACCC commenced court proceedings against Meriton Property Services Pty Ltd for misleading or deceptive conduct. Meriton provides serviced apartment accommodation to its customers.
Meriton participates in the “Review Express” program operated by TripAdvisor. Meriton provides consenting customers’ email addresses to TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor then emails the customers and invites them to review Meriton’s services on TripAdvisor.
The ACCC claims that sometimes, such as when there was no hot water or a lift was not working, Meriton withheld customer details from TripAdvisor or deliberately provided incorrect email addresses to TripAdvisor, so that customers would not be contacted by TripAdvisor and therefore would not post negative reviews.
If true, this practice would distort the overall impression created by the reviews of Meriton’s serviced apartment accommodation, potentially misleading consumers who rely on independent review platforms like TripAdvisor. It would also disadvantage Meriton’s competitors in the serviced apartment industry.
If the allegations are correct, this is a fairly extreme example of what not to do.
It is also a reminder that if you manipulate online reviews of your business, you risk contravening the prohibition against misleading or deceptive conduct in the Australian Consumer Law.
But there are other traps to avoid in relation to online reviews by customers. Take our fun quiz below to check your risk level!
|1.Do you have your staff write reviews of your business on review platforms, websites or social media, pretending to be customers?||Yes – 1 point||No – 0 points|
|2.Do you make it known that you will provide rewards for reviews of your business but only if the reviews are ‘positive’?||Yes – 1 point||No – 0 points|
|3.Do you remove (or have others remove) ‘negative’ reviews of your business from review platforms or your own website or social media pages?||Yes – 1 point||No – 0 points|
|4.If you have a connection with a reviewer of your business, do you ensure that the reviewer (or the review platform) discloses the connection?||Yes – 0 points||No – 1 point|
|5.Do you allow ‘positive’ reviews of your business to remain on review platforms even when you know that they are fake reviews (that is, they are not indicative of genuinely held views of customers of your business)?||Yes – 1 point||No – 0 points|
|6.Do you offer incentives to others to remove ‘positive’ reviews of competitors’ businesses?||Yes – 1 point||No – 0 points|
|7.Do you offer incentives to others to write ‘negative’ reviews of competitors’ businesses?||Yes – 1 point||No – 0 points|
|8.Do you regularly monitor social media relating to your business, such as consumer posts on your brand page on Facebook, and remove those which are fake reviews or contain material which is defamatory or offensive?||Yes – 0 points||No – 1 point|
|9.Do you have a Moderation Policy to guide you about when you can or should modify or remove reviews of your business?||Yes – 0 points||No – 1 point|
|10.Do you publish your Moderation Policy on the site(s) to which it applies?||Yes – 0 points||No – 1 point|
Check your risk level
If you scored:
0 Great job Captain Sensible!
1-3 You are being a bit silly. Check the ACCC’s guide: What you need to know about online reviews.
4-6 Your appetite for risk needs adjusting. Your hobbies probably include BASE jumping, motorcycle racing and running with the bulls. Rein it in.
7-10 Once the ACCC is finished with Meriton, you may be next on its hit list.
If you need help to reduce your risk level, including guidance on when it is appropriate to remove reviews of your business from review platforms, websites or social media, please contact any of the authors using the contact details set out adjacent.