These days if you want to know something what do you do? You google it. In this online world customers trust review sites to decide whether a supplier has credibility. The rating they receive from other customers influences decision making. So, you have to look twice when you realise that a Perth residential building company set up two online review websites for themselves. The Federal Court found Aveling Homes operated and controlled two websites — Aveling Homes product reviews and First Home Owners Centre product reviews — but represented them as independent of the firm. The court also found that they represented their sites as being affiliated with the website http://www.productreview.com.au, when that was not the case.
The review sites appear to have been set up for the express intention of giving Aveling Homes a forum in which to represent themselves as receiving high customer satisfaction and five star ratings for their construction work. Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Simms said the building company held back bad reviews to give a more favourable impression of its services. He said “Consumers are increasingly relying on online review websites to assist with their purchasing decisions and they expect those review sites to be independent and unbiased.” The court found that 133 reviews were not published, 45 of those were less than three stars, skewing the overall star rating for Aveling Homes in their favour.
They were fined $380,000 for engaging in conduct liable to mislead the public and their Group Sales and Marketing Manager, Sean Quartermaine, was also fined $25,000.
Another interesting development in review sites is the situation with Wisdom Homes. ProductReview.com.au says it has been forced to remove reviews for this builder after being threatened with legal action. Apparently Wisdom Homes has a clause in its customers’ contracts that bans customers from writing an “announcement, blog, public statement or article for publication” without the company’s permission. One wonders why a building company would take this extraordinary step. ProductReview.com.au sees this as a dangerous precedent that threatens customers’ right-to-review.