The Advertising Board adopted and published the Guidelines on Consumer Reviews (“Guidelines“), as a principle decision at meeting No. 337 on 12.09.2023, related to consumer reviews, which have a significant impact on consumers’ shopping preferences and influence their purchasing decisions. The Guidelines are available here (in Turkish).
By covering the basic principles, information, control process and situations that are considered deceptive in relation to consumer reviews, the Guidelines aim to guide advertisers, advertising agencies, media organizations and all other persons, institutions and organizations related to advertising, on their obligations in this regard.
The Guidelines mainly cover online consumer reviews of goods or services and ancillary contracts offered by sellers and providers or intermediary service providers. Reviews published on complaint platforms are also considered within the scope of the Guidelines. In addition to the consumers’ written comments, consumers’ rating/stars are also considered consumer reviews pursuant to Article 5/3 of the Guidelines. On the other hand, the Guidelines explicitly state that they do not cover reviews of purchases and practices that do not fall within the scope of a consumer transaction, and consumer reviews where natural and legal persons, who do not act on behalf of the seller or provider, share their own experience on the internet for the purpose of providing information on a good or service (for example, a natural person’s review of a trip on their own blog).
Article 5 of the Guidelines stipulate the circumstances that should be considered within the scope of a consumer review and the persons who may give a consumer review. Accordingly, consumer reviews may be related to: (i) a good or service; (ii) the seller, provider or intermediary service provider offering the good or service; or (iii) ancillary contracts such as delivery, credit and insurance services.
In addition, in order to give such reviews, the consumer must have purchased the good or service that they are evaluating. That being said, in the case of order cancellation, termination of the contract or exercise of the right of withdrawal, reviews that are limited to the experience up to the point of the purchasing process are also considered within the scope of purchasing.
Pursuant to Article 5/5 of the Guidelines, the circumstances in which a seller, provider or intermediary service provider may allow the publication of consumer reviews are as follows:
- Publishing online reviews of goods or services purchased from the physical store of the seller/provider
- Publishing reviews about a seller offering goods or services on the platform of an intermediary service provider
- Publication of a review posted on another website (by indicating from which website it was taken) on the website of another seller offering that good or service for sale or on the platform of an intermediary service provider
Consumer reviews that have undergone the necessary evaluations will be published for at least one year, without distinction between positive and negative reviews, in line with objective criteria such as by date, rating, ranking, seller or provider.
Another prominent provision in the Guidelines are the prohibition on the use of statements related to health conditions in relation to a good or service on sale. Accordingly, for example, reviews such as “It is good for my cough, useful against asthma and bronchitis” for a conifer paste will not be published.
Pursuant to Article 6 of the Guidelines, the rules set by the seller, provider or intermediary service provider for the publication of reviews shall be included in the area where the reviews are published or on a pop-up screen where consumers are directed. However, it is specified that the rules set by the seller, provider or intermediary service provider cannot be regulated in such a way as to prevent the consumer from evaluating the goods or services or ancillary agreements such as delivery. Nevertheless, it is possible for sellers, providers or intermediary service providers to adopt the principle of not publishing reviews that violate the prohibition of discrimination, or that are threatening or abusive. In this respect, it should be noted that a consumer whose review is rejected on the grounds that it does not comply with the publication principle needs to be informed and given the opportunity to make corrections and re-submit their review.
The Guidelines impose certain obligations on sellers, providers and intermediary service providers to inform consumers. For instance, consumers must be clearly and comprehensibly informed about how the average review score is calculated, how reviews are ranked and the implemented processes to prove that the published reviews were made by consumers who purchased the good or service. Intermediary service providers are also required to disclose to other consumers that the consumer who provided the review is a person who actually purchased the good or service. According to the examples in the Guidelines, such disclosure may be made through statements such as “purchased from the seller …” or “Verified user.”
Article 7 of the Guidelines also set out the “control process” that sellers, providers or intermediary service providers must operate in relation to the publication of a consumer’s review. Accordingly, the difficulty of the process shall be reasonable and proportionate for consumers and must not discourage them. Article 7 goes on to provide examples of what reasonable and proportionate control processes might be, such as using tools that can automatically detect fraudulent activity and taking measures to respond to complaints about suspicious reviews. In addition, it is emphasized that assessments shall be subject to the same control process and time limit, regardless of whether they are positive or negative.
The Guidelines also regulate situations that may be considered as misleading reviews. In this context, it is stated that symbols and expressions indicating appreciation or approval in exchange for a benefit are misleading (as they are not honest and objective). Similarly, reviews given for a good or service other than the one purchased are also considered misleading reviews. The Guidelines indicate that misleading reviews shall not be published.
Paragraphs 3, 4 and 5 of Article 8 of the Guidelines indicate that sellers, providers or intermediary service providers must avoid practices that may manipulate consumer reviews. In this context, situations that may be considered manipulative practices are explained in detail in the relevant article; for instance, enabling consumers to evaluate only one aspect of a good or service, offering opportunities such as gift cards and discounts in order to encourage consumers to make positive comments, and creating difficulties or imposing additional obligations for negative reviews are considered within this scope.
In parallel with the foregoing, pursuant to Article 8 of the Guidelines, ensuring that only positive consumer reviews are published or negative reviews are not published, increasing the visibility of enterprises through search engines in a misleading manner by manipulating the relevant data, and providing consumers with pre-filled positive review templates are considered unfair commercial practices, and it is emphasized that such consumer reviews shall not be published.
The persons liable under the Guidelines are regulated under Article 9 of the Guidelines. Accordingly, it is stated that advertisers, advertising agencies and media organizations are individually liable, and the subsequent correction or compensation of advertising and commercial practices that do not comply with the Guidelines would not eliminate liability for any identified noncompliance.
The Guidelines provide a framework on what constitutes consumer reviews and impose various obligations on sellers, providers and intermediary service providers in order to ensure that such reviews are not misleading for consumers. Accordingly, it is crucial for sellers, providers and intermediary service providers to review the Guidelines, which provide guidance for the objective and reasonable conduct of the consumer reviews publication process, in detail and to follow the necessary compliance steps.