Reviews are only valid and worthwhile if they are honest, transparent and real but more than that businesses need to be aware that in New Zealand, there is a legal requirement to present reviews accurately, and consequences if those obligations is not met.

This applies mostly when businesses publish reviews on their websites but omit ones that they consider unfavorable or challenging, or edit them to create a different sense other than what reviewers intended. The Commerce Commission takes a very dim view of this and will prosecute offending companies under the Fair Trading Act 1986. “The Fair Trading Act makes it illegal for anyone in trade to mislead consumers, give false information, or make misrepresentations. It also applies to advertising in all forms such as online, print, TV, social media – and in all dealings with consumers.” Source: (https://comcom.govt.nz/business/your-obligations-as-a-business).

(Image source: https://comcom.govt.nz/business/dealing-with-typical-situations/ensuring-customers-get-a-complete-picture-of-your-online-reviews)

Misleading consumers by a manipulated and fraudulent presentation of an online reputation is obviously harmful in that it creates a fully inauthentic sense of the company based on consumer reviews.

Late last year a holiday and accommodation rental company was successfully prosecuted and substantially fined for deliberately misleading consumers with inaccurate reviews on their website.

This company “misled consumers through the creation of artificially positive impressions about certain properties and its services. [Its] conduct included:

  • deleting comments regarding the cleanliness and amenities of properties, and regarding reviewers’ experience of properties;
  • withholding from publication reviews for properties to which customers had given a star rating of lower than 3.5 out of 5. This conduct meant that no listed property at the time could display a customer rating lower than 3.5 stars out of 5.

Commerce Commission chair Anna Rawlings says, “Online reviews are an important source of information for consumers contemplating the purchase of goods and services. This is particularly so in markets such as short-term property rentals, where customers may not have access to other information to help them to decide whether a property is suitable for their needs. Consumers have a right to expect that reviews solicited from past customers will be published in a way that accurately represents the feedback received.” (Source: https://comcom.govt.nz/news-and-media/media-releases/2019/bachcare-convicted-and-fined-for-misleading-online-reviews).

“If I were a consumer I would trust them as much as I would trust someone on a dating website offering up reviews from their past girlfriends.”

From a professional point of view, I would never recommend that a business put reviews it has accumulated from customers on its website because there is no way to establish and illustrate the provenance of the reviews and prove their legitimacy. If I were a consumer I would trust them as much as I would trust someone on a dating website offering up ‘authentic’ reviews from their past girlfriends or boyfriends.

It is far more valuable and worthwhile to direct site visitors to reviews on a third party website, whose whole focus is presenting accurate, authenticated reviews. This can easily be done and not only offers a far greater level of consumer faith but avoids the legal issues that will definitely arise if reviews that are copied and pasted are edited to suit or omitted altogether.

Reviews are the dominant driver of consumers’ choices and behaviours and it is imperative that businesses accept that an honest and transparent review strategy and platforms are the only way to be successful in this omni-digital world.