When shopping online, customers often base their decisions on the reviews of the goods and services of a given e-commerce site. However, they have no idea whether the reviews are written by customers and not by the marketing department of the e-shop itself. This should change in the new year when the amendment to the Consumer Protection Act comes into force.
“The trader does not have to publish any reviews. If they publish them, they must ensure that they are credible reviews. It will also be forbidden to publish fake consumer reviews or misrepresent reviews on social media, ” Miluše Trefancová from the Ministry of Industry and Trade, which introduced the amendment, said.
Not verified? Don’t buy
“These practices will always be considered misleading, i.e., prohibited, and subject to a fine of up to CZK 5 million,” Trefancová added.
The Consumer Defense Association (SOS) welcomed the change, which says that verifying reviews will not add much work for e-shops.
“They can prove the correct procedure in case of an inspection, for example, by proving that the review cannot be inserted without entering the order number or by pairing the e-mail from the order and the review,” Alena Máčová, a lawyer at SOS, said.
However, according to Jan Vetyška, director of the Association for Electronic Commerce, which brings together e-shops, the law does not imply an obligation to verify customer reviews automatically but to inform whether the e-shop confirms them, if so, how.
This interpretation is disputed by Máčová from SOS and representatives of the consumer magazine dTest. According to them, the verification of reviews will not be a choice but an obligation of the e-shop.
The opinion of lawyers from the Czech Trade Inspection Authority, which is supposed to control compliance, is in favor of e-shops. “It is not forbidden to publish unverified reviews, but it must be clearly stated that the reviews are not verified. It is impossible to remain silent,” Jiří Fröhlich, an inspector spokesman, said.
Either way, the change will be helpful. If customers read that the reviews are unverified, they may change their minds about buying goods from the e-shop. Moreover, the online shop will attract the attention of inspectors.
However, it cannot be ruled out that a phony glowing review is written by a customer close to the business or for a fee after the goods have been purchased. Generally, it is worth comparing several reviews of the goods in question and buying them with cash on delivery from unverified e-shops rather than sending money in advance.
Although the amendment goes further on the issue, fictitious reviews are already checked by the CTIA. It mostly learns about them from consumer submissions and fines them as an unfair commercial practice.
This year, the most significant fine for e-shops was imposed on Lunzo, which was 750,000 crowns. According to Fröhlich, the company even repeatedly deleted negative reviews from users complaining that they had paid, but the goods had not arrived. This culminated when the negative rating of a CTIA inspector, acting in the capacity of a consumer, was adjusted from one to five stars.
The amendment, based on European regulations, has already been approved by MPs and senators and is awaiting the president’s signature.
With the adoption of the amendment, the way of marking price tags for discount promotions in shops should also change. Goods will have to be marked with their previous price. It will be the lowest price for the product in the last 30 days. The obligation should not apply to perishable goods, i.e., fresh food.