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.”