Australia Biz: How to buy a good review

It doesn't cost much to buy good reviews for your bar or restaurant. Stock photo / Getty
It doesn't cost much to buy good reviews for your bar or restaurant. Stock photo / Getty

For just US$95, Review That Stick will post glowing reviews of your restaurant on six different websites.

No matter that the person writing the review is somewhere in Asia and has never sampled your food and never will.

Similar packages are available for lawyers, real estate agents, hotels, mechanics and a myriad of other businesses.

Fake online reviews are a growing problem as consumers turn to the internet for even the most minor purchase or service, yet struggle to differentiate between the real and the fake.

Businesses might not see much harm in it - why not concoct a couple of favourable reviews about your restaurant or hotel? - but Australia's consumer watchdog takes a different view.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is searching for fake reviews and taking action through the courts.

It launched legal action against Meriton Serviced Apartments in November, alleging the accommodation provider tried to prevent some guests from posting negative reviews on TripAdvisor.

The ACCC alleges that from November 2014 to October 2015, Meriton took steps to prevent guests it suspected would give a negative review from receiving TripAdvisor's 'Review Express' email. TripAdvisor's 'Review Express' service sends guests a prompt on behalf of accommodation providers, allowing them to easily post a review on the travel site.

It is alleged by the ACCC that Meriton staff inserted additional letters into some guests' email addresses provided to TripAdvisor so that the email addresses failed.

It is also alleged that on occasions Meriton failed to send the majority of addresses of guests staying at particular properties, such as when the phone lines were down or the hot water wasn't working.

Meriton, which is owned by billionaire Harry Triguboff, has denied the claims and will defend the court action.

ASIC has taken action on these sorts of things in the past, but Meriton is the most high profile business it has gone after and signals it is taking a tougher approach to the problem.

Fake reviews are difficult to police. They can sometimes be hard to spot and are even harder to prove. Often it is a business' competitor which blows the whistle.
Nonetheless it is important.

Consumers are increasingly relying on online reviews when they make a decision on anything from a new computer to a hotel or restaurant to a dentist or podiatrist. They need to be confident in the reviews they read and to know they will genuinely assist them to make better purchasing decisions.

Otherwise good businesses won't be rewarded and thrive instead of bad ones.

Fortunately, there are a few different ways the consumer can spot a fake review. If the "reviewer" hasn't written any other reviews or their reviews are all very similar then they're probably fake. Likewise if they are very specific about the product name - who but a fake review would bother typing "the RU-Px1278a" multiple times in a review, for instance?
Also, they lack the detail and the description of personal experience - using 'I' for instance - that real reviews have.

Perhaps we need a review site to review online reviewers.

WHAT WILL 2017 BRING?

Despite a dour mood from consumers and an overly cautious approach from many of our business leaders, Australia notched up its twenty-fifth consecutive year of economic growth and the benchmark ASX-200 share market index rose 7 per cent in 2016.

But as we begin 2017, there are a few clouds on the horizon that will be focussing the minds of business leaders and investors alike.

One of the things that kicked the economy along last year was a bit of a recovery in resources prices.

Iron ore and coal prices both rose throughout the year as China cut the output from its own coal mines and the central government increased stimulus spending, thereby also increasing demand for steel's key component.

But the reality is that there is still a global oversupply of these two commodities and any turnaround based on the whim of the Chinese government can reverse just as quickly.
The other big risk is property prices.

Year after year, house prices continue to rise, making fools of pundits like me who say that property prices are unsustainable.

But the fact remains that housing prices in Sydney and Melbourne are more expensive than they have ever been.

In a report from on global property prices that examined income to house price ratios, investment bank UBS late last year found that Australia's property prices were 7 per cent above previous highs. The ratio rose by 23 per cent in the past four years. (Only New Zealand house prices have grown faster.)

This is unsustainable and house prices will eventually fall, though I'm not brave enough to say it will happen this year.

But when property prices fall, they will take consumer confidence and the construction sector with them and the economy will take a hit.

- NZ Herald

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