Friday, 4 January 2019

2019 - the year the CMA finally clamps down on businesses that abuse reviews?

We sincerely hope so. Because if they do not a whole lot of consumers will be continue to be misled (and many honest businesses will miss out on custom). Let's look at the current situation...

Here's a checklist of the kind of abuses that we see committed by businesses every day...





Just one of dozens of such ads on Ebay - today - so there must be thousands of businesses out there cheating the system 
  1. Only inviting happy customers to write reviews (called 'cherry-picking' by the regulators)
  2. Only inviting customers to write a review at the time the business choses
  3. Using a reviews site or mechanism that allows the business to challenge negative reviews
  4. Posting fake reviews to reviews sites
  5. Posting fake reviews to Google
  6. Employing an outside agency to post favourable reviews of the business
  7. Using reviews of one product to promote another - reviews of a vacuum cleaner to promote a bicycle, for example
  8. Using reviews achieved in one market (e.g. USA) to promote the business in another market (e.g. the UK)
  9. 'Gating' - getting legitimate reviews to one site and then inviting only those that rate the business 5 stars to post their review to another site
  10. 'Secret gating' - inviting reviews to the business and then only inviting those that rate the business 5 stars to post to a reviews site or to Google
  11. Getting employees (or their friends and family) to write reviews
  12. Incentivising customers to write positive reviews (incentivising customers to write any kind of review is against Google T&Cs)
Wow! - that's a full dozen. How about what customers are looking for when they read reviews?...
  1. Honesty
  2. Transparency
  3. Case histories that they can relate to
  4. A regulated environment
So what can be done to pull the two together?
  1. Regulatory action
Five years ago we would have put 'education' (of businesses) in front of regulatory action, but now, in 2019, we know that any business guilty of any of the breaches listed above above is performing that breach wilfully - they know they are breaking the law. They are cheating the system. Worse still, they are cheating consumers.


Excuses

Here are the main reasons we hear from businesses that are in breach...
  • We didn't know [whatever non-compliant behaviour they had adopted - the most common is cherry-picking happy customers to write reviews] was against the CMA regulations
  • We were told by [insert name of reviews site] that their system was compliant (using a closed system - where only those invited by the business to write a review can do so, or a system that allows the business to appeal against negative reviews, to cite just two examples)
  • We had received unfair reviews from [ex-staff/competitors/customers with an axe to grind] and we needed to redress the situation urgently
...and none of them will be acceptable to the CMA. Remember that the CMA regulates your business's use of reviews - and the sanction, if your business is found to be in breach of the CMA regulations, will be on your business.


The solution

All businesses have the following two options...



It is possible to look great without cheating
  1. Put a button on your website inviting all your customers - and anyone else - to write a review direct to Google (why on earth would a business want their reviews to appear anywhere else - except their own website - in 2019?) or...
  2. Adopt professional review management and get moderated reviews to your own website and to Google

Further reading...
  • For those that are still unfamiliar with the CMA regulations here they are, along with our analysis
  • And for those who might be thinking that 'doing it right' may be expensive, just look at how much extra business this client did as soon as they adopted professional review management (speak to us for more case histories)
  • Moderation is all about ensuring that reviews are accurate and appropriate - it ensures that factually inaccurate or potentially misleading (as well as fake or downright abusive) reviews are very unlikely to see the light of day

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