Aveling Homes Fined $380K For Misleading Review Sites
The ACCC has fined West Australian-based Aveling Homes $380,000 for misleading conduct related to two online review websites.
Group Sales and Marketing Manager, Sean Quartermaine, has been penalised $25,000 for his association and knowledge of the conduct.
The Australian Federal Court has found that during 2016, Aveling wrongly portrayed that each of its review websites was “independent” and affiliated with www.productreview.com.au.
The Perth-based residential homebuilder held control of the websites; www.avelinghomesproductreviews.com.au and www.firsthomeownerscentreproductreviews.com.au.
ACCC Chairman, Rod Sims, affirms that Aveling Homes intervened to create a “more favourable impression of its services” on the review websites:
“Aveling held back bad reviews from its review website to give a more favourable impression of its services. Consumers are increasingly relying on online review sites to assist with their purchasing decisions. They are entitled to expect that review sites are independent and unbiased”
“Companies publishing customer reviews online must be clear with consumers whether or not they accurately reflect the full range of consumer feedback – the good and the bad”.
The Australian Federal Court has also deemed that the “overall star rating” on review websites were more favourable towards Aveling’s offerings than would have been the case “if all the reviews received by Aveling were published”.
The regulator states that the features and appearance of the review websites involved in the contravening conduct were designed by Mr Quartermaine.
Following the ACCC’s ruling, Aveling Homes offered the following admission in a statement to ChannelNews:
“We acknowledge that we did not post all positive and negative reviews on this website [www.avelinghomesproductreviews.com.au]. We now appreciate that some consumers were likely to have gained the wrong impression that the website was operated independently of Aveling Homes or was in some way associated with productreview.com We very much regret and apologise if anyone got that wrong impression. We should not have created such an impression or omitted the positive and negative reviews.”
“Since December 2016, we have made changes to the appearance of our review website, and we consider that it is now clear that the review website is operated by Aveling Homes. We want there to be no doubt in the mind of any visitor to this website that it is a review website operated by Aveling Homes and features reviews from clients of Aveling Homes.”