Whether it is through an online business locator tool like Yelp or your own Facebook page, the presence of unsolicited customer reviews for large and small businesses has surged. Everyone has an opinion and there is no question that positive online ratings and reviews can be a cheap and effective marketing tool. However, caution is advised following the implementation of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, as those online reviews could have some unintended consequences for retailers who are supplying services, as well as goods, to their customers.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 applies to all contracts between traders and consumers for the supply of services entered into after 1 October 2015. The statutory terms included in all contracts to supply a service include the obligation to perform the services with reasonable care and skill, to only require the customer to pay a reasonable price (and no more) if the price is not known from the start, and to provide the services within a reasonable time, if the time for performance is not agreed in advance. However, another statutory term included in these service contracts may catch some retailers unawares: anything said or written to the consumer by or on behalf of the trader about the trader or the service, if taken into account by the consumer either when deciding to enter into the contract or when making any decision about the service, after contracting, becomes a term of the contract unless otherwise expressly qualified or amended by agreement.
The upshot? Those unsolicited customer reviews that rave about your services are now a term under your contract for the supply of services that can be enforced by the customer. Take an example: a beauty retailer decides to offer hair and makeup services in-store. Naturally the customers love the service and post favorable reviews on the retailer's Facebook page. One of those reviews says: "I love this store. You never have to wait for your appointment and your makeup and hair will always be finished in 30 minutes." The retailer's marketing team "likes" the post and thanks their happy customer for such a positive review. A potential customer reads this positive review and decides to make an appointment. The store is busy and she waits for 20 minutes. The makeup and hair then take another 45 minutes to finish. The customer refuses to pay for the service on the grounds that the retailer did not provide the services within the agreed time (30 minutes). The retailer argues no time for performance had been agreed and the services were provided within "a reasonable time" (65 minutes). Unfortunately, the customer has the better argument because the Facebook review, acknowledged by the retailer, has made 30 minutes the agreed time for performance of the hair and makeup services!
So what to do about those unsolicited customer reviews? Don't abandon your social media marketing, but do pay close attention to posts and reviews and be aware that uncorrected statements can have unintended results.
Also see our article from the May 2016 EU Retail newsletter on consumer protection law in relation to online reviews and endorsements.