I’ve never considered using Viagogo to purchase tickets to concerts or gigs, and after following up on an online story recently, I doubt I ever would. Usually I would got to a site like Ticketmaster – their prices are transparent, selecting seats is easy to do, and I’ve never been let down. I had heard of Viagogo and like many others, I was confused about what they actually do. The Swiss based company doesn’t sell tickets at face value but is a reseller – with some incredible mark-ups on price.

Viagogo is under close scrutiny across the globe for some of its practices, and I was alerted to the scale of that by an initial story I read on Stuff. A family member of a gentleman in Taranaki had purchased tickets for an upcoming Marlon Williams concert for over $400, only to subsequently discover that their face value was between $58-$71 on an official site. That’s quite a mark-up and that is where most users of the site get caught out. That appears to be due to some of Viagogo’s dubious business practices. The site creates a false sense of urgency – saying that tickets for events are currently severely limited, when the opposite is true. Many consumers also get caught out, believing that the site is an official retailer of events.

The Commerce Commission has received nearly 600 complaints about the site and a hearing initiated last August is coming up for consideration in February. But it’s not only in New Zealand that Viaigogo has drawn a significant consumer backlash.

“Viagogo has accrued over 25,000 reviews – with 48% of them being either ‘bad’ or ‘poor.”

In the UK, The Guardian has reported for the last few years that Viagogo has not done nearly enough to prevent scalpers – or touts – from making obscene profits by hugely inflating prices. The UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) had directed the site to initiate substantial changes, and while some had been remedied, many had not. Failure to comply could result in huge penalties, as well as jail time for the company’s directors.

After reading about ten very unflattering news stories, I decided to search for online reviews. Strangely there are no Google ones, but after reading a litany of woe on Trustpilot, I’m not surprised. Viagogo has accrued over 25,000 reviews – with 48% of them being either ‘bad’ or ‘poor. The common themes are massively inflated prices, consumers feeling deceived, and totally inadequate customer service and conflict resolution – interestingly a facet of the NZ Commerce Commission’s allegations as well. Frankly I was amazed by the consistency of the complaints and also the lack of due diligence by many consumers before giving the site their credit card details.

“But instead of getting around the table and addressing the many and consistent consumer complaints, and initiating a makeover of the company’s culture and practices, it was decided to implement a thinly veiled and spurious charm offensive by trying to obtain a slew of positive reviews.”

If all of that wasn’t enough, another story on The Guardian from 2017, really caught my eye. The good people at Viagogo were obviously aware of the company’s toxic online reputation. But instead of getting around the table and addressing the many and consistent consumer complaints, and initiating a makeover of the company’s culture and practices, it was decided to implement a thinly veiled and spurious charm offensive by trying to obtain a slew of positive reviews.

Viagogo emailed 37,000 past customers asking them to review them on Trustpilot, with a financial inducement to win an £85 voucher. The issue here is that Viaigogo emailed customers who had used the site ten years previously – before its practices resulted in a predominantly negative online reputation.

The Guardian reported that Trustpilot’s guidelines state: “We ask companies to invite all or none of their customers to review, if that’s not possible, companies must select an equally impartial system – such as inviting every third customer.”

“It is amazing that someone at an executive level would green light a project such as that – not only for the negative reaction it would create but mainly because it is like putting an Elastoplast on a gaping wound.”

“Viagogo’s email offered customers a place in a €100 prize draw in return for a comment on Trustpilot. Trustpilot says its review pages always make clear whether companies are offering financial incentives, but no such information appeared on Viagogo’s listing.”

It is amazing that someone at an executive level would green light a project such as that  – not only for the negative reaction it would create but mainly because it is like putting an Elastoplast on a gaping wound. While Viagogo had accumulated masses of negative online reviews, the opportunity was lost to see their actual worth. And their real value was free market research – signalling that consumers shared real and troubling concerns that required immediate action.