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Online reviews are crucial for any eCommerce business, as they provide valuable information for future customers. Many consumers will rely on online reviews when deciding which business to use. Hence, ensure that your business has an acceptable review policy. It can be challenging to engage your customers with reviews if you are small or just starting out. It may be tempting to pay someone to leave an online review for your business. However, this practice raises legal and ethical concerns, so be wary about doing so. This article will explain why you should avoid paying someone to leave online reviews and discuss how the law applies to online reviews in New Zealand.

Creating an Honest Image for Customers

When customers are browsing the products or services you provide, they need to be able to rely on the image you create. When consumers buy a product from your website, they expect it to be of acceptable quality and fit for the purpose they purchased it. When customers have to worry about whether the way you advertise is truthful or not, they may be less likely to buy your products. You may also face legal penalties. Consumers likely will not have the same specialised knowledge as commercial parties when entering transactions. Therefore, the law protects them by prohibiting certain forms of dishonest conduct.

Your online reviews play into the honest image of your business. Consumers will rely on what past customers have said to help them make any purchasing decisions. This is especially true if you solely operate online, as customers cannot confirm your statements for themselves because they do not have access to the physical product.

For example, say that you sell clothes online. Customers will not be able to confirm fabric quality or actual sizing until they buy the physical product and see it for themselves. So, they will rely on the images you provide and what previous customers have said.

Online Reviews and the Law

If you sell goods or services to consumers and are ‘in trade’ (meaning you regularly sell goods or services for a profit), you need to abide by consumer law. One of these laws provides requirements for what you can say to your customers. This means that you:

  • must accurately represent your products or services;
  • should not mislead your customers;
  • cannot make false statements;
  • cannot make unsubstantiated claims;
  • should sell in good faith;
  • cannot engage in unfair sales tactics;
  • need to follow product safety standards; and
  • should disclose important product information to customers.

Therefore, if your reviews are fake or untrue, you are misleading your customers. Not only will this damage your reputation, but you could also face severe legal penalties. If you have breached your fair trading obligations, you could face fines up to: 

  • $200,000 for individuals; and 
  • $600,000 for companies or other body corporate.

Additionally, this also applies to deleting negative reviews, as this misleads customers regarding the overall sentiment about your business.

Paying Someone to Leave Reviews

If you are a small business, it can be tempting to pay someone to write an online review about your products to generate interest and attract customers. However, if you are not careful about how you do so, you could mislead your customers about the nature of the review and face legal consequences. Customers value integrity and will be suspicious if your reviews do not seem genuine. This is also true if you only have positive reviews of your business.

For example, you may decide to pay someone to write a fake positive review about one of your products, despite them never having used it. Consequently, you risk losing customers and facing legal penalties.

If you want to compensate someone for leaving a review of your product or service, they should:

  • have actually used the product or service; 
  • be clear in their review that you compensated them; and
  • give their genuine opinion, whether that be positive or negative.

Additionally, you cannot pay someone to leave a specific positive or negative online review, as this is not a genuine customer writing a genuine review. If you pay someone (or offer some other compensation, such as a free product) to write a review of a product of yours they have used, they must disclose the nature of your contractual relationship in their review. This is so that customers know that there may be a factor affecting the impartiality of their review.

For example, you may offer a free night’s stay at your hotel in exchange for a review from a customer. Accordingly, that review must be their genuine opinion, and they must disclose that the accommodation was free.

Key Takeaways

Attracting positive reviews for your online business is an excellent way to stimulate growth and establish a positive reputation. However, if you do so dishonestly, you will lose customer trust, and you may face severe legal penalties. Paying someone to write reviews for your business could fall into this category, so be very wary of doing so. If you would like more information or help to manage your online reviews, contact LegalVision’s online business lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I pay someone to review my products?

If you pay someone to review your products, you must not hide the fact that you have paid them. In their review, they should make it clear that you compensated them in some way and that you asked them to write a review.

Can I write fake reviews?

You must not leave fake online reviews of your business. This would mislead your customers about the nature of your business’s reviews, and you would likely face severe legal penalties.

When would a review be misleading?

A review would be misleading if the sentiments expressed within it were not the reviewer’s genuine opinions. If you pay someone to leave an online review for one of your products and they do not disclose this, that review would be misleading.

Can I delete negative reviews?

If you delete negative reviews of your business, you could face severe legal fines for misleading your customers. However, if a review is harmful or abusive, you may have grounds to take it down.

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