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On February 29, car selling platform myTukar published an open letter to their competitor Carsome, addressing it to the unicorn startup’s CEO Eric Cheng.

According to the letter, myTukar noticed and alleged that Carsome has a “long practice” of incentivising five-star reviews by rewarding such reviewers with prizes or the potential of prizes.

“We believe this goes against ethical advertising and review practices, and have a few words to say,” their Facebook post’s caption reads.

“Rewarding and incentivising five-star reviews will not only erode trust and reliability in the long run, but also create an environment of mistrust across the used car industry in Malaysia,” the letter read. “We have long tolerated this and strongly urge Carsome to cease such activities.”

Going against the policies

In light of myTukar’s claims, Vulcan Post found a document on Carsome’s website that details a “review and reward” campaign for 2023. To be eligible for the promotions, customers could either post a recommendation on Carsome’s Facebook page or leave a five-star review on their Google Business Page.

In this campaign in particular, Carsome was offering vouchers worth up to RM500 every month.

myTukar also wrote that they believe Carsome has had similar offers from as far back as 2020.

We did find a page on Carsome’s website that encouraged customers to leave reviews to stand a chance to win prizes, but it was not limited to only five-star reviews.

A screenshot that myTukar uploaded that allegedly shows Carsome’s practices

myTukar clarified, “It is okay to ask customers to leave reviews. However, it is unethical to reward customers for five-star reviews.”  

Ethics aside, myTukar also brought up the fact that offering discounts, prizes, or monetary rewards in exchange for good reviews violates Google’s policies.

Google describes such practices as deceptive, and states that fake engagement is not allowed and will be removed. Fake engagement includes:

  • Paying, incentivising or encouraging the posting of content that does not represent a genuine experience.
  • Discouraging or prohibiting negative reviews, or selectively soliciting positive reviews from customers.
  • Content that has been incentivised by a business in exchange for discounts, free goods and/or services.

In Malaysia, general advertising principles also state that testimonials or endorsements must be genuine and related to the personal experience of the person giving it.

“Ultimately, biased reviews hurt the entire industry and consumers as well,” myTukar wrote in an edit.

“We think it’s important that all businesses are judged fairly by their services, not by the amount of money and prizes being given out. We believe all customers want to read genuine reviews when researching about who to spend your money with.”

Reflecting back on myTukar

However, some were quick to point out that myTukar has had similar practices. To this, the company said that it indeed has seen images from past campaigns, and acknowledge that they happened four years ago in 2020.

“It was wrong then, and it is wrong today,” the team refuted.

They elaborated that the company in 2020 was handled by a completely different marketing team that they supposedly let go due to such unethical practices.

“We highly encourage everyone to focus on the current issues that are at play right here, right now, in 2024, instead of digging out old campaigns that do not reflect our current practices,” they concluded.

Our two cents

Netizens seem to have some varying opinions about this call out. On myTukar’s own post, some commenters claim that myTukar is simply jealous, or that it’s not a big deal.

Image Credit: myTukar

When reposted to other communities, though, there are different sentiments, with some saying this practice dilutes the meaning of a five-star review. Some, though, point out that this open letter seems to be a “special” marketing strategy by myTukar.

Personally, I’ve been to establishments whereby I’ve been asked to give a five-star review in exchange for freebies or complimentary services. And I’ll admit, I have followed through—but only when I genuinely feel the place deserves a five-star rating.  

However, that practice does leave a sour taste in my mouth. It feels disingenuous and completely undermines the business’ ratings. It gets me thinking, just how many of these five-star reviews are “bribed” for by freebies?

I think that it’s not wrong to incentivise reviews amongst customers, but it shouldn’t be limited to only five-star reviews. It should be in the business’ interest to get honest and candid reviews regardless of whether it’s positive or negative.

So far, Carsome hasn’t issued any responses to the open letter. But more than a letter to Carsome, I believe that myTukar’s comments are ones that all businesses should take note of. Incentivising only positive reviews is certainly not a good look for a business’ accountability and integrity.

  • Learn more about myTukar’s open letter here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Derrick Eng, CEO of myTukar & Eric Cheng, CEO of Carsome

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© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)

Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)