29. april 2015

Stepping up the efforts against misleading user reviews

The Consumer Ombudsman is intensifying its supervision of online user reviews. Elkjøp is the first trader that has been asked to tidy up its practices, for instance by making a clear distinction between sponsored user reviews and ordinary customer reviews.

Stepping up the efforts against misleading user reviews

Brukeromtaler illustrasjonMany consumers read user reviews when researching goods and services. Lately, a lot of online retailers have started including these reviews on their own websites, to let the consumer read about the experiences of other customers before hitting the “Purchase” button.

Demanding that sponsored reviews be moved

Elkjøp is amongst the Norwegian traders that devote the most amount of space for user reviews on their site. It was made clear last fall that the chain hands out products for free in return for reviews, without disclosing this in the actual review.

– People who have received a free product, may feel an obligation to write a more positive review than they would otherwise have done. Their basis for reviewing a product will also differ from that of an ordinary consumer, seeing as they have volunteered to take part in a testing panel, says Consumer Ombudsman Gry Nergård.

– Blending the reviews of testers with those of ordinary consumers, may be misleading the consumer, and might therefore be unlawful.

To avoid misleading the consumer, the Consumer Ombudsman has asked Elkjøp to separate their sponsored reviews from the ordinary reviews, by placing them on separate pages or under different tabs.

Removing too many ordinary reviews

Furthermore, the Consumer Ombudsman is asking Elkjøp to remove less of its ordinary user reviews.

Elkjøp’s practice so far has been to remove reviews that contain references to price, customer service complaints or foul language. The Consumer Ombudsman believes the chain is interfering too much with these bases for approval or disapproval, and that filtering reviews in this manner leaves them with more favourable reviews. This might give an incorrect impression of how the consumers are actually evaluating a product.

Elkjøp has been asked to desist in removing user reviews that may be of use to the consumer, unless they contain personal attacks or spam.

More neutral advertising of contests

The Consumer Ombudsman also has some viewpoints on the issue of so-called gift card contests.

Elkjøp customers who write reviews, can participate in a contest where a monthly winner receives a gift card worth NOK 5000. The contest is marketed via e-mail upon having purchased a product online or in store.

The reviews exampled on the website for the contest, are exclusively positive. The Consumer Ombudsman believes this can mislead the consumer, as it gives the impression that positive reviews increase your chances of winning.

– It is a positive for the consumer that traders wish to increase the knowledge about, and use of, consumer reviews. However, in these contests the consumer might get the impression that it’s easier to win by leaving a positive review, says Consumer Ombudsman Gry Nergård.

Elkjøp is already heading in the right direction, having made some changes in how they market their contests. The Consumer Ombudsman still asks that it is made abundantly clear that writing a positive review does not increase your chances of winning.

– Must be used in a clear manner

The Consumer Ombudsman has intensified its supervision of user reviews in 2015, and is now considering how guidelines can be prepared for traders using reviews in their marketing. In this effort, discussions with Elkjøp have been important.

– User reviews give the consumers the power to tell others how they experience a product, and contribute to well-informed choices. However, it is crucial that user reviews are used in a clear manner. We are satisfied with the dialogue we have had with Elkjøp so far, and are pleased that they are striving to find solutions that benefit both the consumers and the traders, says Consumer Ombudsman Gry Nergård.

The Consumer Ombudsman is also discussing user reviews in international forums, to assess how user reviews can be utilized in the best possible manner within the current legal framework.

Press contact at the Consumer Ombudsman:

Gry Nergård, Consumer Ombudsman (Tel: +47 99 00 50 80)