30/11/2017 - 16:07

Perth builder fined for misleading review websites

30/11/2017 - 16:07


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Aveling Homes has been ordered by the federal court to pay $380,000 in response to the competition watchdog’s claims that it had manipulated review websites.

Perth builder fined for misleading review websites
Aveling Homes group sales and marketing manager Sean Quartermaine has also been ordered to pay $25,000 for his involvement.

Aveling Homes has been ordered by the federal court to pay $380,000 in response to the competition watchdog’s claims that it had manipulated review websites.

The Perth-based building company denied any wrongdoing when the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission instituted the federal court proceedings earlier this year, with the penalty handed down today.

Aveling operated and controlled review websites for its two brands; ‘Aveling Home Product Reviews’ and until February 3 this year also operated and controlled the review website known as ‘First Home Owners Centre Product Reviews’.

Its ‘first home owners centre’ website is also no longer in operation.

The federal court found that during periods across 2016 Aveling represented that each of its review websites were independent of Aveling and affiliated with the website productreview.com.au, when that was not the case.

ACCC chair Rod Sims said Aveling had 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,” Mr Sims said.

“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 court also found that the overall star rating and reviews on the review websites were more favourable towards Aveling’s products and services than would have been the case if all the reviews received by the company were published.

The features and appearance of the review websites that caused the contravening conduct were designed by Aveling group sales and marketing manager Sean Quartermaine, who has also been ordered to pay $25,000 and is still with the business. 

Aveling committed to the court not to engage in similar conduct for a period of three years and agreed to contribute to the ACCC’s costs.

The company is currently listed as number 13 on the BNiQ Search Engine’s list of the state’s residential builders, as ranked by home starts.   

In a statement issued this afternoon Aveling said it acknowledged that the business did not post all positive or negative reviews on the website Aveling Homes Product Reviews, which was established in 2014. 

"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.," the statemeant read.

"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

"While we accept that we are not perfect, the majority of our clients enjoy an excellent level of customer service. We will do everything within our power to improve our operations in keeping with each customer's expectations. In 2018, we will also be implementing a consumer compliance program to ensure that we operate in accordance with Australian consumer law guidelines."

The statement also noted that none of the reviews on the client review website were fake or incentivised with gift cards and there had never been any allegation that this was the case. 

Aveling added that it welcomed all feedback about the business - whether positive or negative - and that it was constantly looking for new ways to improve its operations based on the content of client feedback. 



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