Sent this E-mail Reply this morning to ProductReview.com.au’s “Content and Community Head“ as part of a somewhat long and ongoing E-mail conversation from looking into what I feel were some review anomalies observed on a listing on their website through to inquiring how ProductReview.com.au’s structure is actually set up.
Good Morning Jack,
Hope you had a good weekend.
Can you please tell me more about what actual polices, procedures and processes are in place that ensures what is claimed is actually happening?
At the moment, all I feel I have in front of me are claims on a website from the very entity whose ongoing financial viability appears to depend on businesses and brands subscribing to it services (including advertising)
Personally, I can not fathom how in this world would this ever be considered conducive to transparency and impartiality, let alone (more importantly) permit Product Review to claim they are independent 
Does any external independent body actually audit ProductReview.com.au systems and processes? And if so, are you able to please supply me with an audit report or any other evidence there of? (And if not, an explanation would be nice)
If you (or another representative of your employer) could please respond by 5:00 p.m. AEST (7:00 p.m. NZST) today, this would be appreciated.
Thanks and regards,
 “We were created to be independent…” https://www.productreview.com.au/i/trust-centre
What originally triggered this was noticing a repeating pattern on NRMA’s Roadside Service listing where the volume of reviews were spiking significantly in a clockwork like fashion on Wednesday with the remainder of the days seeing a much lower volume of reviews.
- A spreadsheet in .HTM format or .XLSX format highlighting all the reviews that have occurred on a Wednesday as opposed to other days of the week.
- The Raw data in Text format that formed the above.
- A longwinded, boring and crude video showing the issue. Only watch if you’re got excess time on your hand (Sorry, I don’t have proper video editing software)
- An image which indicated the period of anomalous spike(s) in review volume coinciding with a lift in their star rating…
For the period from 2014 to around 2016 there were only a handful of reviews hence accounting for the wild gyration in star rating. As more reviews were posted, the rating gradually smoothed out to average around 3.0.
However, In the first halves of 2018 and 2020, there was a noticeable surge in reviews coinciding with a star rating upsurge (two areas indicated by red circles above)
The ProductReview.com.au’s “Content and Community Head” I feel brushed off the anomaly saying that NRMA Motoring and Services were simply utilizing ProductReview.com.au’s brand marketing tools and therefore at the same time, highlighting to me what I feel is a fairly significant potential conflict of interest right there and then. Yes indeed, I probably should have wondered from the start how ProductReview.com.au actually financially supported themselves.
The conversation eventually and predictably ended up against a wall of confidentially. As in, “we can’t disclose this due to people potentially gaming our system”, privacy issues, and business confidentially (which I do concede many of these reasons will be bona fide). But ultimately, neither NRMA nor ProductReview.com.au cared to disclose why the reviews are spiking every Wednesday and frankly, I’ve never come across a review system which only asks for feedback on one day of the week. I would have though that a company will send out feedback requests soon after and typically within 48 hours of the service being rendered so as to be still fresh in the customer’s mind.
At the moment the key concerns I personally have with productreview.com.au is that…
- They claim they are independent on their website, however they sell services to the businesses that are being reviewed on their site and in light of this potential conflict of interest, I strongly feel the claim of “built to be independent” is misleading. (I don’t ever recall this point being addressed by ProductReview.com.au in my correspondence with them)
- Their Content and Community head who apparently also heads ProductReview.com.au’s so-called investigations team I feel was more trying to sell and advertise ProductReview.com.au’s services rather than discussing the issue of potentially fake reviews in a formal, professional and impartial matter. It seems NRMA were paying ProductReview.com.au for their brand and reputation management tools and of course ProductReview.com.au will favour paying customers first (protecting their revenue stream) than lowly reviewers who pay nothing.
- They are not in any way externally audited by any independent entity, so it is hard to take their claims of batting for the Australian consumer as gospel due to being unable to corroborate these claims and in my mind, anything they say with regard to trust I feel should be taken with a healthy grain of salt.
- A lot of their outbound links such as on this page lead to Medium.com’s 410 Account Suspended links mentioning “This account is under investigation or was found in violation of the Medium Rules” making me even less sure of their credibility.
While it seems Productreview.com.au has quite some standing within the Australian consumer community (often being referred to in such places like Whirlpool) and I myself used to regard them quite highly, It would be fair to say after some deeper investigation, I don’t hold the same amount of regard nor trust I originally had in them.
I will probably drop a general inquiry to both the ACCC and NSW Fair Trading in due course to perhaps seek their opinion on it, and I completely expect nothing will happen (if my experiences with the likes of binary option scams and ASIC’s complete disinterest were anything to go by where despite my warnings to ASIC, they ignored the issue and several Australians ended up being severely fleeced.)
As an aside (though still a related subject) and while this is more of an unquantified feeling at this stage… I get a strong feeling that the Consumer Protection framework or at least the enforcement of in Australia is rather weak and gobsmackingly lacking, more so than anyone, even Australians actually realise. This extends to their financial sector as well In terms of retail investments and retail banking.
Instead of Watchdogs, Australia to me only appears to have a series of toothless watch puppies at both the Federal and State level who investigate only the minority of reports and complaints, then crow about any successful enforcement action as a means to justify their existence to the Australian public (i.e. “window dressing”).
This lack of supervision and enforcement is perhaps resulting in less than ethical companies trying their hand at pushing the envelope in terms of what they can get away with (including a Victorian rental car company caught posting fake reviews). It also explains why I am perhaps running into more strife with businesses doing the dirty in plain sight in Australia than I ever had at home in New Zealand.
Ultimately, it’s going to be up to Australians to deal with the issue themselves. This all involves their companies on their soil and regulators of their land. As far I’m concern, it looks like if you’re an Australian Consumer who ends up with a transaction heading south, then it would appear you’re largely on your own in Australia.
As a New Zealander looking in, It certainly feels as if though the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) at the Federal level are unable to even carry out the bare minimum of what they were originally established to do and dare I say it, I’d suggest consumer rights in Australia are regressing to the levels of what they were in Mainland China two decades ago when things were less developed there and corruption was perhaps more rampant.