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31 July 2014

Opinion: Seeking honest views

Consumers right to be wary in era of paid reviews.

A restaurant struggling with negative online reviews has taken matters into its own hands. It’s offering two VIP entries to the movies plus a $200 voucher to eat at its restaurant. The proviso is an “honest and positive” review of the dining establishment at websites menumania, tripadvisor or google.

How you can be “honest and positive” at the same time remains a mystery. But what is clear is the motive of the restaurant. It wants any kind of review – as long as it’s good.

Not fair you say and you are right. But what if in this murky world of paid reviews, the negative comments about this restaurant had come from competitors posing as punters. The restaurant might arguably just be fighting back.

I’ve looked at the reviews of this eatery. They vary wildly – from superb dining experience to this must be the Fawlty Towers of the South Pacific. I’m none the wiser about whether to eat there or not.

So how “helpful” is any of this to consumers making choices on where to eat, based on what they think is honest commentary by people just like them, on well used and well regarded sites?

Offering incentives to people to write positive reviews of services, whatever it is, is apparently marketing 101. Lots of businesses do it. Of course, the more this happens, the more sceptical people will become. And that has started to happen.

What it does do is make a unique organisation like Consumer come into its own. Providing independent recommendations on products and services is core to our business. Our recently launched Consumer Trusted programme is all about setting high hurdles for businesses. Consumers know businesses that have achieved the accreditation can be trusted to offer good service and fair practices.

On our new website we are inviting the public to share their experiences of products and services. We’d be thrilled if we could encourage the kind of uptake that tripadvisor and closer to home Trade Me can garner! But we’re monitoring it to make sure manufacturers and competitors are not making claims or comments that are unhelpful to consumers.

Now, who can tell me the best place to…

About the author:

Sue Chetwin has been our chief executive since April 2007 after more than 25 years in print journalism. She was formerly the Editor of Sunday News, Sunday Star Times and the Herald on Sunday. She says there are strong parallels between consumer advocacy and journalism.

Sue oversees all of Consumer’s operations and is also the public face of the organisation. Sue is a director of the Banking Ombudsman Scheme, an alternate on the Electricity and Gas Complaints Commission and a member of the Electricity Authority Retail Advisory group.

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