The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission will take ticket reselling company Viagogo to court after hundreds of complaints were made to the regulator and warnings were issued from fair trading organisations about the business.
The ACCC alleges Viagogo made false and misleading representations in breach of Australian Consumer Law in regards to ticket prices for events and concerts advertised on its website. Viagogo is not an Australian company, being based in Geneva, Switzerland.
“We allege that Viagogo failed to disclose significant and unavoidable fees upfront in the ticket price, including a 27.6 per cent booking fee for most events and a handling fee,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said in a statement.
The consumer watchdog will launch legal action against the company over its practices during the short time period of just one month and 26 days, between May 1 and June 26.
Looking at tickets sold on May 18, the ACCC alleges it found ticket prices were hiked up through unavoidable fees, with the Commission claiming the price of a ticket for The Book of Mormon stage show increased from $135 to $177.45 after fees were included.
The watchdog will also take action against the ticket reseller over allegedly falsifying representations surrounding ticket scarcity, with the ACCC claiming the business used statements like “less than 1% of tickets remaining” to create a sense of urgency, when in reality tickets may have still been available via other sources.
More than 470 complaints about Viagogo were lodged with the ACCC since the start of the year, in addition to 143 further complaints to the New South Wales Office of Fair Trading over the same time period. The action of the ticket reseller has also prompted a warning from the Western Australia Department of Industry, cautioning consumers about “online scalpers”.
“Data made available to us indicates that in a snapshot of 14 events over the last five months at Perth Arena alone, 354 patrons presented with invalid tickets purchased from ticket resellers,” acting commissioner for consumer protection David Hillyard said in a statement.
“In 245 of these cases tickets had been purchased from Viagogo.”
Speaking to SmartCompany, Rickard says the ACCC had been looking into Viagogo all year. While the watchdog had received a number of complaints prior to 2017, there was a “sharp increase” this year, possibly due to a large number of high profile events, she believes.
This is the first ticket reseller the ACCC has taken to court, but Rickard says Italian consumer protection bodies have previously investigated and issued fines against multiple ticket sellers, including Viagogo. Italy later criminalised ticket reselling.
Rickard says the ACCC is also concerned the use of the word “official” in Viagogo’s advertising and online promotions might “trick a lot of consumers”, alleging the ticket reseller was further misleading consumers by presenting itself as an official ticket seller.
For businesses operating online stores that may include additional fees, Rickard advises SME owners to “disclose what the total cost will be up front”, where possible.
“The practise is known as drip pricing, where businesses advertises a cheap headline price, but it ends up being more expensive due to large fees consumers aren’t told about until the end,” she says.
“If you can’t work the price out right away, give the total to consumers as soon as you can calculate it.”
For consumers, Rickard advises “as a general rule” they should use authorised seller’s websites, as she believes “events in Australia rarely sell out”.
The ACCC is seeking declarations, injunctions, pecuniary penalties, corrective publication orders, orders for a compliance program and costs, and Rickard says while the company’s international location “does make it more complex, it does not deter us”.
SmartCompany contacted Viagogo but did not receive a response prior to publication.