Yet another Kiwi consumer is fuming at Viagogo – the ticket reselling site that is being targeted by regulators around the world but remains a company Google is happy to do business with.
Marketing manager Evette Chauvineau says she ran a Google search for tickets to Norah Jones’ Auckland concert in the new year.
Viagogo topped the search results. With no obvious indication on Viagogo’s website that it was a reseller, or scalper, she assumed it was the official place to purchase tickets.
She duly bought two tickets for $275 each, or a total of $550.
As she paid online by credit card, she was angry to discover that various handling and customer service fees took that total to $680.
Worse was to come. Chauvineau was furious when the final total on her credit card bill was $705 as it turned out the transaction was in fact in Czech koruna that had to be converted to New Zealand dollars.
And worse again, in her view, she had not in fact purchased a ticket from Viagogo which the site would then mail or email her. Rather the site had apparently brokered a deal that saw her buy the ticket from a person in the Czech Republic who would transfer the ticket to her, through some unknown means, at some point between several months or a couple of hours before Norah Jones’ April 23 concert in Auckland.
Chauvineau has tried to contact Viagogo, but has only received rote responses from what she assumes are chatbots, with her key questions and requests ignored.
She believes she has little hope of seeing her tickets, let alone getting a refund.
She said she was surprised that Google would run search ads placed by Viagogo and says she is telling her story in the hope that others can avoid being landed in the same situation.
Chauvineau is far from alone.
The Commerce Commission has received 587 complaints about Viagogo, making it the most complained-about trader in the past 18 months.
Complaints have related to tickets for various sporting events, and concerts by acts including Celine Dion, Ed Sheeran, Shania Twain, and Bruno Mars.
But it’s not just big acts that are subject to alleged rip-offs. Last month, a Rotorua amateur theatre company was shocked to discover that two tickets to one of its shows that should have cost $32 were onsale on Viagogo for $232.36.
In March, the commission issued a public warning titled “Consumers need to seriously consider if buying from Viagogo is worth the risk,” noting it was investigating numerous alleged incidents of fake tickets being sold, or the same ticket being sold multiple times.
The regulator also noted complaints about hidden fees and misrepresented pricing and “consumers never receiving the tickets they purchased and being unable to get hold of Viagogo to receive a refund.”
It said Viagogo’s conflict resolution process – which calls for aggrieved customers to work through a Swiss court – was unreasonable.
In August the commission followed up filing civil proceedings against Viagogo in the High Court, alleging multiple breaches of the Fair Trading Act and seeking a trading injunction.
As it launched its legal action, the regulator noted Viagogo also faces court or enforcement action in Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain, the UK and Australia. It has been fined in Italy and sued by Fifa.
In a September update, the commission warned that due to the complex nature of the case, it could be some time before it is heard by the High Court. As of yesterday morning, a date had yet to be set.
In the meantime, the watchdog encourages consumers to keep filing complaints (via this page).
The 587 complaint total that the commission supplied the Herald today means it has fielded another 200 or so complaints since it initiated its High Court action.
In February, Google changed its policy so that only certified ticket resellers can advertise on its search engine. Its code of conduct requires that a company not imply it is the original provider of the ticket, disclose all fees and show the original price of a ticket alongside whatever price is being pitched for the second-hand sale.
Viagogo does not appear to meet all of these conditions.
Earlier today, the Herald searched on Google for “Shania Twain tickets Auckland.”
A Viagogo ad came up at the top of Google’s list of results relating to the American singer’s two nights at Auckland’s Vector Arena in December.
The Herald clicked through to Viagogo’s site. Original prices were not displayed next to resale prices, although fine print at the bottom of the page offered “Original face value price per ticket (excluding fees): 11.72 – 427.1 NZD.”
Viagogo’s various fees were not displayed.
The site uses a number of hard-sell practices, implying tickets are selling fast. The Herald logged on three times over a three-hour period, looking for tickets to Twain’s December 18 show. The first time, a message popped up saying a customer had just bought four tickets. There were only 128 left. That appeared to be a popular number of tickets to buy. On the Herald’s second and third visits, pop-up messages also said four tickets had just been sold. Mysteriously, there were still 128 left.
Viagogo has been approached for comment.
A spokeswoman for Google Australia-New Zealand said the company did not comment on individual advertisers.
She added, “We have detailed advertising policies designed to promote a safe and positive experience for users (see AdWords Policies). Users can lodge complaints if they believe an advertiser breaches our policies and we will investigate accordingly.”
A Commerce Commission spokesman said earlier today that the regulator had no comment on Google’s stance, or any further comment on Viagogo, while the case is before the High Court.
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