Give small business a break

Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Bruce Billson is urging people to refrain from posting negative online reviews, as short-staffed small businesses struggle to stay open.

Mr Billson says many small businesses are working hard to keep their doors open and their employees and customers safe, as we learn to live with COVID-19.

“Small businesses are doing their best to serve their communities, despite the challenges that come with having staff in isolation and supply chain disruptions,” Mr Billson said.

“The best way to support small businesses is to be a kindly customer — patient and understanding, with good and generous intent. Small businesses are run by real people who deserve our respect and empathy.

“Negative online reviews can be devastating for a small business, particularly those that are struggling to recover from a tough couple of years. So just put the phone away. Resist the urge to give that unfair one-star review.”

The ombudsman’s comments about the lasting and damaging impacts of negative online reviews follows a submission to the Federal Government’s social media inquiry calling for digital platforms to make it easier to remove fake reviews.

“Our office has assisted more than 30 businesses dealing with fake reviews in recent years,” Mr Billson said.

“These so-called reviews hurt business reputations and cause significant distress to staff and business owners.

“Unfortunately, small businesses have few avenues for recourse when a fake review is posted, which is why there needs to be a transparent review system in place.

“In the US, Google acted to protect the interest of the investment application Robinhood by removing hundreds of thousands of fake reviews on its Google Play Store. We believe small businesses should be afforded similar protections of their interests.

“We recommend digital platforms build tools to prevent fake reviews and be clear about the evidence small businesses need to provide to have fake online commentary reviewed and removed.

“Small business owners are under enormous strain as they work get their businesses back on track. Fake reviews are contributing to those mental health pressures. Digital platforms should be doing more to support the small business community.”