Online sales: new rules for reviews
- Sergej Schuurman
- 2 May 2023
- Edited 24 Nov 2022
- 4 min
- Rules and laws
The rules for online sales have changed. On 28 May 2022, new EU guidelines have come into effect to better protect consumers online. Do you do business with customers through your online shop, sales platform, or social media? Then be aware that the rules for pricing, free digital services, personalised content, and reviews have changed. This article focuses on the new rules for handling customer reviews.
Do you do business with consumers online, and can your customers leave reviews? You have a duty to inform visitors of your website how you handle reviews, and a duty to actively prevent fake reviews. You cannot remove negative reviews, unless it is certain that they are fake.
Take these new rules seriously. If you do not, you are engaging in illegal trade practices. ACM and AFM will enforce the new rules. In the end, both you and your customers profit from a transparent and reliable website.
According to a January 2022 European Commission report, the reliability of the reviews on nearly two thirds of the 223 largest European online stores is questionable. The EC was unable to verify whether or not the reviews on these websites were actually placed by clients and/or users, as the websites did not provide enough information. And that is the focus of the new rules: a ban on placing and allowing fake reviews to be placed on internet and social media.
Many consumers value reviews about products and services on offer online. Reviews may make them decide to buy an article or purchase a service. There are different types of reviews: a description, a grade, or a star-rating. As a customer, you do not have any use for a fake review.
Some websites allow you to leave a review without any form of control or moderation, and regardless of whether or not you have bought the product. You can also use fake accounts and different IP addresses to do so. This makes placing fake reviews too easy.
Some websites, suppliers, or producers place reviews themselves, to make a product look as good as possible. This can give consumers the wrong impression. The same goes for removing negative reviews, leaving only the positive ones. Or paying (well-known) persons to write a positive review. This amounts to manipulation of the reviews.
What are the rules that came into effect on 28 May 2022?
- You have to indicate clearly on your website what your review policy is, and how you prevent fake reviews. For example, by ckecking IP addresses, or by indicating you have checked that the reviewer has actually bought the product, or used the service.
- You are not allowed to pose as a consumer and place reviews about your own products or services.
- You must be clear about how an 'average review score' is calculated.
- You are not allowed to pay a reviewer or give them a discount for writing a review, without explicitly stating this with the review. For example, by stating 'sponsored'.
- You are not allowed to remove negative reviews without mentioning it, leaving only positive reviews. You may only remove a negative review if you can prove it is false, and therefore unlawful. Also say if you check or moderate negative reviews before they are posted on your site.
- On social media, you are not allowed to post likes or have them posted to promote your site or product.
- You are not allowed to link from your website to another website that contains reviews on your product or service, unless you can guarantee that these reviews are real.
Recognising fake reviews
Here are a number of questions to ask yourself to help you recognise fake reviews, so that you can remove them.
- Find out who is the reviewer. Are they in your customer database? Can you check whether they really have bought the product? Have they placed reviews on your website before?
- Is there a real name with the review, or just an anonymous identity or made-up username?
- Has a product been launched recently, and do the reviews feature experiences you can only have if you have been using the product for a longer period of time?
- Using a search engine, can you check whether this person also features and places reviews on other websites?
- Did the reviewer post many reviews in a short time? This may point to the reviews being fake.
- Check the style of writing. Is the tone only ever positive? Does the person use a lot of capitals or exclamation points?
- Is there a lot of irrelevant information, or a wealth of unnecessary technical detail?
- Is the brand name mentioned often in the review? This may lead to more search results, which is advantageous for the fake reviewer.
- Do you find the same text in other product reviews, or on different sites? Check this using a search engine.
- Does the review not mention any arguments or details? That may be a sign that the product was not used or bought.
Negative reviews are unpleasant, but not a bad thing by definition. They may offer you an opportunity to improve your business or your product. Showing a negative review can also make your company come across as more reliable. How do you handle negative reviews?
- Think about what you want to say, and analyse the review. Is the response correct, can you put it to use? Put your emotions aside and stay rational. A serious review deserves a serious response.
- Address the customer personally in your response. Thank them for their review. Stay positive and try to understand the customer's experience.
- Be honest. Do not engage in an online discussion. Do not invent excuses. That is not helpful. Take your responsibility, and indicate how you want to solve the problem, or compensate the customer. That way, you tell the unhappy customer as well as other readers that you handle reviews carefully.
- Do not try to handle a dispute online and in public. Reach out to the customer by calling them on the phone, for instance. Do you come to an agreement? Then consider proposing that the client rewrite their review. Win-win.
Make it impossible for visitors to leave reviews on your website without any checks. Invite your customers by email to place a review after they have made their purchase. You can also use external parties, such as Kiyoh or Trustpilot. These parties take care of the process on your behalf, meeting the duty to inform by having their review policy clearly stated on their website.
Make it impossible for consumers to post a review on your website if they have not bought the product from you. Make your review policy clear on your website.
Enforcement and sanctions
The Netherlands Autority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) and the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets (AFM) are the enforcers of the new rules for online sales. Their fines are serious. They can amount to 4% of your annual turnover or a maximum of 2 million euros. If the offence is repeated, the percentage can increase to 10% of your annual turnover. Enough cause to be serious about the review policy for your online store.
Do you want to find out more about the new rules for online sales? Read the article.