New international standard for online consumer reviews

New guidance for organizations which use online review platforms has been published by BSI, the business standards company. The voluntary standard is backed by leading review platforms Feefo, Trustpilot, and Bazaarvoice, as well as leading international consumer organizations such as ANEC, the European Consumer Voice in Standardization.

The international standard, ISO 20488, sets out clear guidance for review administrators in the collection, moderation and publication of online consumer reviews. It addresses the issue of misleading consumer reviews – particularly those in the retail, travel and leisure industry. By effective management of their online review site, the standard also aims to protect an organization’s reputation against damaging and misleading reviews.

With an estimated £23billion a year of UK consumer spending potentially influenced by online reviews1, the standard will help address consumer protection concerns raised by the Competitions and Markets Authority in the UK over the transparency of online reviews.

The new standard requires those posting reviews, to verify they come from genuine consumers. Retailers must be able to provide contact details for those reviewing their products or services, and must ensure reviews reflect the balance of comments received.  The standard requires that information must be stored confidentially in accordance with GDPR regulations, and allows anonymous reviews as long as contact details are available to check reviews are genuine.

Guidance is given on how review administrators deal with concerns over fake reviews, including criteria for the removal of reviews after their publication. The option to ‘flag’ inappropriate content should be given to regular users as well as moderators, and requirements for a right of response by the suppliers is outlined. It is recommended in the guidance that review administrators keep a record of all illicit reviews, and all documents attached to the reviews, for at least one year from the removal date.

David Fatscher, Head of Sustainability and Services at BSI, said: “Millions of us depend on consumer reviews to guide our purchases, and they are a valuable tool to build trust in ecommerce. At their best, online reviews empower consumers and suppliers and allow the sharing of genuine information and experiences. At their worst, reviews can be false, and spread misinformation among consumers.

“This guidance strikes the right balance between verifying the authenticity of a review whilst respecting the reviewer’s right to privacy. ISO 20488 is an answer to the current thorny issue of online reviews, where a lack of standardized guidance has left consumers in the dark as to the accuracy of a review.”

Whether reviews are time limited or not is deliberately left to the discretion of the online platform; a review for a restaurant might reasonably be expected to have a shorter time window than a review for a car, for example. The guidance recommends that whichever time window the online platform chooses that it is posted clearly to avoid confusion.

The standard also recommends that pre-emptive steps are taken to consider the issue of bias, conscious and unconscious, among review administrators, which might affect the neutrality of their management of an online review forum.

ISO 20488 Online consumer reviews – Principles and requirements for their collection, moderation and publication is applicable to any organization that publishes consumer reviews online, including suppliers of goods and services that collect reviews from their own customers, a third party contracted by the supplier, or an independent third party.

The following organizations were involved in the development process of this international standard: Bazaarvoice; Consumers Council Canada; BSI Consumer & Public Interest Network; Decathlon; Feefo; German Hotel Association (IHA); Homestars; Komazawa University; Nomade-Aventure; Reputation Manager; Ted Rogers School of Business Management; Trustpilot.

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Notes to Editors:

1Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) Online reviews and endorsements – Report on the CMA’s call for information