Purplebricks and Foxtons accused in The Times as ‘gaming’ Britain’s biggest consumer feedback site

Estate agents have been accused of ‘gaming’ reviews website Trustpilot in a story in The Times. Both the agents cited, Purplebricks and Foxtons, have strongly denied the claims made in the newspaper, in a story run under the headline “Trustpilot paid by firms to filter reviews”.

Trustpilot has also taken issue, saying the article “includes a misrepresentation of the Trustpilot platform and the way we work”.

The Times says it analysed almost 200,000 reviews on Trustpilot, finding that some companies are jumping from a handful of bad responses from consumers one month, to hundreds of positive reviews the next.

The Times, which says that banks are also gaming the system, claims that subscribers can use Trustpilot’s technology to filter the reviews they place on their own website or corporate Facebook pages, “allowing customers to read only favourable posts”.

The story also claims that invitations to review companies are sent to people before they have had a “full chance to experience the service they have bought”.

According to The Times, Trustpilot admits that its technology allows subscribers to filter out bad reviews, but it told the paper that the practice was akin to a book or film review.

A Trustpilot spokesperson said: “A publisher likely wouldn’t put a negative review of their most recent book in promotional materials, but that doesn’t mean that everyone loves the book.”

The Times story cites both Foxtons and Purplebricks, along with Vanquis Bank, a credit provider.

The analysis by The Times found that in August 2016, Foxtons had five reviews on Trustpilot with an average score of 2.2. The following month, Foxtons had 467 reviews, with almost 90% giving it five stars.

It found that Purplebricks has 62,000 Trustpilot reviews, scoring 9.5 out of ten.

The Times says: “By comparison, Countrywide, one of Britain’s largest estate agents, has only 123 reviews and a score of one out of ten.

“Countrywide is not a paying subscriber to Trustpilot but Purplebricks is.”

Trustpilot told The Times that some companies do try to game its system but that it has “zero tolerance” of such tactics.

The newspaper says it also found that Trustpilot is “failing to remove reviews with identical text”.

The paper claimed: “When supplied with these reviews, the company admitted that its systems were not perfect.

“It has since removed dozens of duplicate reviews, including examples that relate to Purplebricks and Foxtons.”

Purplebricks told The Times: “We are categorically not inflating Trustpilot reviews.

“The high number we have is an indicator of our scale and success.”

Foxtons said: “Our high Trustpilot scores are a reflection of our high service levels and the good results we deliver for customers.

“We comply with all Trustpilot guidelines and strongly refute any suggestion that our scores are misleading or have been artificially inflated.”

The link to The Times story is below, but readers may find it is behind a paywall.

In a lengthy statement, a Trustpilot spokesperson said: “The article claims that ‘Trustpilot admits that its technology allows subscribers to filter out bad reviews…’.

“However, the fact is that no company – paying or non-paying can filter reviews on Trustpilot. Companies that subscribe to one of our paid plans do have access to widgets that allow them to pull in reviews dynamically from their Trustpilot company profile pages to their own website.

“But we do not allow in any way companies to filter out bad reviews on Trustpilot.

“The Times article says that ‘Critics of the company say the findings show how corporate subscribers are able to use its marketing and reputation management tools to manipulate their ratings’.

“However, no company can pre-moderate, pre-select or censor reviews written on Trustpilot. We strongly believe in the power of being open to everyone and again no company can edit, delay, deselect or prohibit a review from being published on Trustpilot.

“All companies on Trustpilot must abide by the same rules – whether a company is a paying customer at Trustpilot or not has no bearing whatsoever on how their reviews are treated.”

The statement concludes: “If we find that any company is violating our guidelines, we investigate and take appropriate action. If a company is found to have solicited fake reviews, we can issue a Consumer Alert on its Trustpilot page, letting the world know of attempts to mislead consumers.

“We see this as a key way to combat fraud, as sharing this type of information in a transparent way can help better inform both consumers and companies.

“The review industry has got plenty of work ahead. It’s by no means a perfect world. And yes, now and then you’ll find someone who is trying to game the system and manages to publish the occasional fake review, on our platform or any other. But with the very best processes, people and technology we have in place, we make sure everyone can use Trustpilot with confidence.”

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/estate-agents-and-banks-gaming-feedback-website-trustpilot-jxjxjt02x

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38 Comments

  1. Eyereaderturnedposter12

    IMHO…A more apt view, and title for this article would be…
     
    ”Trustpilot gaming consumers by allowing firms to filter reviews”

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    1. Malcolm Egerton

      They are equally guilty. The problem is that the reviews sites would never have been invented – for ‘service’ businesses anyway, if Google reviews had been the force they are today ten years ago. Now the reviews sites – Trustpilot?feefo/Yelp – cannot compete with Google reviews.

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  2. ArthurHouse02

    However, no company can pre-moderate, pre-select or censor reviews written on Trustpilot. We strongly believe in the power of being open to everyone and again no company can edit, delay, deselect or prohibit a review from being published on Trustpilot.

    This is completely incorrect. If PB report a review it is removed from Trustpilot whilst the reviewer is contacted to provide evidence that they are indeed a PB customer. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this, its hard enough for some people to leave a leave so i’m sure they then cant be fagged to provide all their paperwork to Trustpilot.

    So yes negative reviews can be moderated and censored

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  3. GPL

    “The story also claims that invitations to review companies are sent to people before they have had a “full chance to experience the service they have bought”

    With regard to Purplebricks …..as they engage in the “ Review before the whole transaction/service has been completed/experienced by the vendor”

    …..lets see Purplebricks drop every review that doesn’t meet the sold/exchanged/buyer paid & moved in criteria  ……..then we can see accurate Trustpilot reviews!

    At present one simply adds “Don’t” to “Trustpilot”.

    …….and for the record, every company manipulating reviews should be heavily fined unless they desist from this shabby practice.

     

     

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    1. JVSOZ

      I can tell you we were encouraged to get reviews ASAP and regardless of having sold yet to bolster our own personal review links from TP, even if it was an appraisal where the vendor decided not to list at all because they just wanted a free valuation.

      I can also say that every customer who bought or sold was automatically sent a TP review request at the end of their transaction, and sometimes agents got bad reviews! Yes head office would challenge every bad review, but if it was legitimate (checked by TP and found to be genuine) the bad review stuck and management would go absolutely nuts.

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      1. Malcolm Egerton

        This is the first time I’ve seen this confirmed by someone who has worked at PB. Where is the CMA?

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        1. Robert May

          JVSOZ suggests JVS might be in OZ so the answer to the question where is the CMA? might be; on the other side of the world.

           

          No doubt the M.O. here is the same too

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          1. JVSOZ

            Yes the CMA is Down Under! 😀

            I did have a conversation with a guy that became an LPE in Australia, but had worked in Head Office in Australia and England on the phones, and he did mention they were encouraged to get 5* reviews from people even when just handling phone enquiries and the customer was all jolly and happy with the service they were getting, particularly with viewings. There might have been an incentive for how many they could get too. They also get incentives for converting calls into appraisals.

            There was a story that one time, Kenny breezed into the Sydney head office and put a stack of $50 notes on the table, and for every call converted into an appraisal, the call centre staff member who chalked one up could take a $50 note and pop it in their pocket.

            The staff at the call centres are called “CPE’s” (Central Property Experts).

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            1. Robert May

               How many $50 were claimed? How many were declared  on tax returns?

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              1. JVSOZ

                Rob,
                Your guesses are as good as mine!

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                1. Robert May

                  Good job your version of HMRC will be able to ask for an accurate number!

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  4. GPL

     

    “ we make sure everyone can use Trustpilot with confidence. “

    B@llocks!

     

     

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    1. Malcolm Egerton

      Actually TP works pretty well for online retail, as does Feefo; it’s just that they are totally unsuited to high-value low-transaction-rate businesses like estate agency.

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  5. Chris Wood

    Trustpilot, Purplebricks and others have been fighting to keep this story under wraps for years. Far from being “obsessed”, “empty vessels” and “bullies” amongst other petty insults, all of the posters who have kept raising and helped investigate this issue have helped identify and expose potential, apparent and actual in the case of portal juggling etc. unlawful and illegal practices. It is shameful that the NAEA/ ARLA, RICS and TPOS have remained silent in the face of mounting and compelling evidence of these and other firms behaviour

    If any agent of whatever size, business model or otherwise uses misleading claims to advertise itself, the CMA has made it clear it will step in. Organisations such as the CMA, NTSEAT, HMRC do not move at the speed of a thousand shaved gazelles but, they do move. However, consumers and law-abiding businesses need action now, not in a year or two.

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    1. Malcolm Egerton

      ‘Organisations such as the CMA, NTSEAT, HMRC do not move at the speed of a thousand shaved gazelles but, they do move.’
       
      How right you are, as that clutch of agents in the Westcountry that were fined £375,000 found out. It will be interesting to see which abuse of reviews – ‘cherry-picking’ (selecting customers to write reviews – often to Google) or ‘gating’ – (getting reviews to one site and then inviting only those that rate the business 5* to copy theiirs somewhere else – often Google) they crack down on first.

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  6. Chris Wood

    Purplebricks is on public record as stating that all of their reviews are “verified” which a cursory record of their reviews proves to be untrue with just a small percentage being marked as such. A Trustpilot employee also confirmed that this was not the case and used refreshingly language to do so. See the transcript here https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ofIdmNJhtYESus7ddyLPHfxQin7Vs9Rp/view?usp=drivesdk 

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    1. Malcolm Egerton

      Gripping transcript Chris! I reommend everyone reads it.

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  7. cyberduck46

    It’s well known that people who are generally happy with a service won’t naturally be as compelled to leave a review as somebody who is unhappy. When asked I’m sure some people feel obliged to give feedback. So in my experience, companies who ask their customers for reviews will get better reviews.

     

    We know PB ask their customers to review them. We know they had fewer customers in 2015 than 2018. Looking at the graphs for Foxtons and Vanquis they could easily be explained by them periodically seeking reviews from customers.

     

    So the data the Times has published and the innuendo that there is something amiss i think is misleading in PB’s case and perhaps also with Foxtons & Vanquis.

     

    The question for me is whether non-paying customers of TrustPilot can invite their customers to review them as easily as paying ones. If so then I don’t see a problem as long as companies that don’t wish to be part of TP can ask to be removed.

     

    When I used PB I was only asked once to review them and this came a week or so after I accepted an offer. It came from TP so there is a question over whether PB provide all customer information to TP and whether requests for review are random or are timed to coincide with offers being accepted.

     

    If TP are allowing companies to select particular reviews to be published on their website then that is wrong – it should be a random process. But then again I bet if you look around Traditional Agents’ websites that publish customer comments it won’t be a random selection. If a builder or artist show you pictures of their work they won’t show you their disasters.

     

    Just my 2p worth. Don’t have time today to reply to any comments.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    1. Property Pundit

      Don’t have time today to reply to any comments

      Narcissism is alive and well.

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    2. Woodentop

      When I used PB I was only asked once to review them and this came a week or so after I accepted an offer. It came from TP so there is a question over whether PB provide all customer information to TP and whether requests for review are random or are timed to coincide with offers being accepted.

       

      There we have it folks from the horses mouth ……PB breach GDPR and rigging timing/reviews on TP. How many customers did PB not disclose to TP is also a question people should be asking. I don’t expect many people will have forgotten the agro PB created over another review site, which contradicted TP reviews.

       

      Reviews should be at the discretion of the customer, if not they are manipulated data.

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  8. DarrelKwong43

    bigger news,would  have been genuine review posted on trustpilot/feeoo/allagent/google

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  9. DASH94

    The whole Reviews culture is a worry to me.   As Cyberduck says, people are more inclined to leave negative rather than positive reviews.   We have no honest way of disputing or redressing the reviews – it is nigh on impossible to get a google review removed – even if its a complete lie, and when a negative review lands – we have to commit a shed load of time to finding out who they are, why they’re saying what they are (usually sour-grapes for some reason) and then we have to compose a pleasant reply that doesn’t actually address the issues as we’d be in contravention of GDPR if we gave the true facts!   The last one I got was a 1 star with no comment attached – turned out it was someone who’d phoned for a viewing but wasn’t happy because the landlord wouldn’t take cats!  Thats the extent of the transaction that we had.    It galls me  to have to write ‘Thank you for your review’ to someone who has slagged us off for doing what we’re paid to do.

    It’s the modern day equivalent of being locked in the stocks and having rotten fruit thrown at you.

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    1. Malcolm Egerton

      It’s a fact of modern life and every business needs to find a way to manage Google reviews (and accept that they’re going to get the odd ‘unfair’ one). As long as the positives are in the dozens/hundreds and the negatives are a handful. And: you don’t have to ‘thank’ someone that has given your business a roasting, just respond (essentail) setting the record straight.   Look at it this way – in the ‘good old days’ people just went to the pub to bad-mouth your business and you had no way of countering that, with a review at least you can respond and put your side of the story.

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      1. DASH94

        Can you?   When someone says that we are bunch of thieving b*stards and took their deposit money unfairly?  Are we able to show photo’s or say that not paying your rent is not acceptable?   I do acknowledge that they’re a fact of  modern life, but so are a lot of things that get me riled up.  🙂

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        1. Malcolm Egerton

          It’s up to you how you respond. But respond you must.

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  10. WiltsAgent

    Ask anyone under 35 and they are well aware that the only reviews that count are Google reviews. The rest are marketing guff. Trustpilot are only interested in their customers, the companies who pay for their reviews to be ‘managed’.

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    1. DASH94

      Problem is that if you need to have a gmail account to leave one – and people won’t open an account just to leave a positive review – especially  landlords, which are the reviews that you really want

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      1. Malcolm Egerton

        One: it is estimated that over 25 million people can write a Google review now (you don’t need a Gmail account – and Google related account – e.g Youtube – and you can. Two: how do you account for agents that have hundreds of reviews on Google? Just look at some Winkworth branches, they don’t seem to have found it a barrier.

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        1. DASH94

          “No need for anyone to create an account just toleave a review! … You do need some kind ofGoogle account.”
          If you don’t already have any google accounts – (Youtube etc), most of which lean towards the under 35’s, in my experience, customers are not keen on signing up to one in order to leave us a review.
           
          Good luck to anyone that has any good reviews – whether it’s 5 or 500.  I still have a gripe with the whole principle of it and the time that has to be taken to cultivate them and massage the results.  

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          1. Malcolm Egerton

            I suppose it depends on how much you want/need all that lovely business that flows from looking great on Google.

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  11. wardy

    ”The story also claims that invitations to review companies are sent to people before they have had a “full chance to experience the service they have bought”.

    What do you make of that then Mr HeadShepard? Would you still be the ”uk’s most trusted agent” if all positive reviews from people who have merely booked a viewing were to be removed?

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  12. Malcolm Egerton

    Agreed. The first – and only – place anyone looks is Google, and it’s absolutely vital to look great there.

    My first question to any agent using Trustpilot/Feeo is ‘Why not Google?’ and the second is ‘What ‘advantages’ do they (TP/Feefo) give you?”

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    1. whodis123

      I think the answer has already been given! With TP you have the opportunity to flag poor reviews with a view to maybe getting them removed by making people jump through hoops to have it left on there. Feefo you can select who you send a link to to ask to leave a review so you can ‘cherry pick’. With Google you have neither of those options so virtually impossible to manage/manipulate your reviews to look better than perhaps is deserved.

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      1. Malcolm Egerton

        Cherry-picking is against the law (or the CMA regs, which amount to the same thing); watch this space for the first agent to fined for it.

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  13. Woodhen

    Its the same with AllAgents….we received a defamatory post and when they were contacted advised that it would be removed if we became a member at £100/mth???

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  14. Malcolm Egerton

    If you see a business go from ‘zero to hero’ (no/bad reviews to looking great) in a short space of time it’s often a sign of gating. Gating is where you invite reviews to one location (it could be another reviews site or even to the business by email) and then only ask those that rate the business 5* to go on to copy their reviews to another – more influential – location (usually Google). Illegal and against Google’s T&Cs.

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  15. Tcos

    We noticed the importance of Google reviews about a year ago and have had a plan in place to ensure we ask every customer after a successful transaction to leave a review. We only started doing this about six months ago and it has had middling success. We have moved up the table in terms of overall score and we now sit with the top players in the area but we have not had a huge surge of reviews. I do not know why people haven’t or won’t write a review. So far only good reviews so no need to respond in defending ourselves which fingers crossed will continue.

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    1. Malcolm Egerton

      To move up the rankings in Google you need great SEO, which includes hosting reviews on your own website.

      Report
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