Energy retailer True Value Solar has agreed not to resume a program that offered customers an incentive if they published an online review of the business on a third-party website, following an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
The program, which ran between February and September 2015, offered customers a free solar panel service if they posted a review on third-party website, www.productreview.com.au.
According to the ACCC, the free service was valued at $199 and was only offered to customers who had already indicated their experience with True Value Solar was positive. The incentive was not disclosed in the review.
The competition watchdog was alerted to the incentive after a consumer contacted it with concerns about an increase in the number of positive reviews for True Value Solar on the Product Review website.
The incentive ended in September 2015 and in a statement provided to SmartCompany, True Value Solar said it has worked with the ACCC to resolve the matter.
“We have agreed that we will not reinstate that particular program and that any future system designed to generate reviews for True Value’s products or services will comply with the ACCC’s Guidelines for Managing Online Reviews,” the company said.
“Our aim is to provide the highest level of customer service and ensure Australians can make informed decisions about our products and services.”
ACCC deputy chair Michael Schaper said in a statement businesses run the risk of misleading consumers and breaching Australian Consumer Law if they offer incentives for “unbalanced positive reviews”.
“Online reviews provide consumers with important information based on the experiences of others,” he said.
“Consumers rightfully expect reviews to be genuine and independent to help them make informed purchasing decisions.”
According to ACCC guidelines, business should only offer incentives for reviews if the incentives are available to all consumers, regardless of whether the reviews are likely to be complimentary or critical.
The watchdog says businesses should treat positive and negative reviews in the same way, inform the consumer they are eligible for the incentive even if the review is negative, and prominently disclose the incentive to readers of the review.
What to do … and what not to do
Narissa Corrigan, principal of Ampersand Legal, advises SMEs on commercial law in relation to advertising and marketing. She told SmartCompany businesses cannot only offer incentives for positive reviews.
“If they want to incentivise customers to leave reviews, the incentives must be given equally to positive and negative reviews,” she says.
While Corrigan says “the best way for businesses to encourage positive reviews is to deliver a good service”, she says businesses have a responsibility to ensure reviews are not misleading or deceptive.
This includes refraining from selectively editing reviews to take out negative parts.
Corrigan also recommends monitoring reviews to catch any non-genuine posts.
“It’s okay to remove reviews which are not genuine or which contain defamatory, obscene or objectionable content,” she says.