Need to know
- In July 2019, the world’s predominant search engine banned Viagogo because of its shonky tactics
- Viagogo is back on Google, but we have evidence that it shouldn’t be
- Our investigation found that Viagogo is continuing to pressure-sell and is still flouting Google’s own rules
The ticket reseller Viagogo was kicked off Google in July 2019 for all kinds of good reasons.
Here's just a couple of them.
Sports fans let down
In 2017, 400 people who bought tickets to the Australian Open tennis tournament on Viagogo – which referred to itself at the time as the "official' ticket seller for the event – were turned away at the gate.
The tickets were fake.
Hundreds of tennis fans who bought tickets on Viagogo were turned away from the Australian Open in 2017.
That same year, we reported on the case of 71-year-old Dugald Docherty of Adelaide, who paid $2201 for a ticket to see European soccer titans FC Barcelona take on Real Madrid.
It emerged that tickets from a legitimate Real Madrid ticket seller to see the same game were $442, and they hadn't gone on sale yet.
Genuine tickets had not been available eight months before the match, when Docherty bought his fake tickets on Viagogo.
He'd been ripped off, and getting his money back from Viagogo was a months-long ordeal that took a toll on Dugald's mental and physical health.
Despite a Federal Court ruling against Viagogo in April 2019 for making false or misleading claims and engaging in misleading conduct, Viagogo is clearly still not doing enough to prevent scam artists from using its site to swindle consumers.
Elton tickets lose their sparkle
In late 2019, many Elton John fans who bought tickets on Viagogo were reportedly refused entry to his Adelaide show.
South Australia's commissioner for consumer affairs, Dini Soulio, went on record to advise consumers to avoid using Viagogo.
This could be a tough call for many internet shoppers. Viagogo is often the first site that comes up on Google when you search using one of the many ticket and event-related search terms that Viagogo has bought from Google.
CHOICE's Jonathan Brown shares tips for how to avoid being ripped off by dodgy ticket websites.
In another case related to Elton John, a consumer, Glenn, got in touch with us to describe a typical Viagogo runaround.
"My wife was searching online for Elton John tickets as a gift for my parents and the first result that came up was Viagogo," Glenn tells us. "Not aware of who they are, she proceeded through the checkout process and purchased tickets, also not noticing the fine print on booking fees and currency conversion on the way through."
"I only became aware when looking at our credit card transactions – $1500 for two tickets. I contacted Viagogo, seeking a refund for their deceptive practices in checkout and misrepresentations, without success. They could not promise tickets or even tell us where the seats were located in the venue."
Glenn ended up reselling the tickets on Viagogo at a loss – and getting put through the wringer by Viagogo when he tried to recoup his money.
After much argument and many emails, they finally agreed to pay me for the tickets, though it took about six weeks and more emails to get the payment processed and the money returnedGlenn, Viagogo victim
"Viagogo argued that I couldn't get my money from the sale until after the event, and only if the new purchaser was able to enter successfully, even though I was not the original purchaser of the tickets and had never had them in my possession," Glenn told us.
"After much argument and many emails, they finally agreed to pay me for the tickets, though it took about six weeks and more emails to get the payment processed and the money returned. [It was like getting] blood from a stone."
These are just a few of the many Viagogo horror stories we've documented in our ongoing investigation of the Switzerland-based reseller.
And we're hardly the only ones who have a gripe with the company.
The regulator steps in
In March 2017, we referred Viagogo to the ACCC and later handed it a Shonky Award.
In August 2017, the ACCC announced it was taking Viagogo to court.
The Federal Court found in April 2019 that Viagogo had long been making false or misleading representations and engaging in conduct that was likely to mislead the public.
Among other things, Viagogo had been:
- misleading consumers by claiming that tickets to certain events were scarce when, in fact, they were only scarce on the Viagogo platform and widely available elsewhere
- misleadingly using the word "official" in its online advertisements
- drawing in customers with a headline price and then dripping in additional fees during the booking process – also known as 'drip pricing'.
The ACCC has also advised consumers to steer clear of Viagogo.
Meanwhile, the federal government recently released a consultation paper proposing a new Information Standard for ticket resellers. The standard would require ticket resale websites to show the original face value of tickets and disclose the fact that the websites are not the original ticket sellers.
Has Viagogo really reformed itself?
Less than six months after being removed from Google, Viagogo has recently been let back on the world-striding search engine, and it's almost certainly paying a hefty sum to achieve its impressive search rankings.
Given its chequered past, it's no surprise that its recent re-entry on Google coincided with a resurgence of Viagogo complaints to NSW Fair Trading.
Google Australia told us it let Viagogo back on because the reseller has cleaned up its act and is no longer engaging in the sort of trickery that the Federal Court found unacceptable.
But when we recently shopped for tickets, we found Viagogo is still up to some of its old tricks.
Pressure of the ticking clock
Viagogo may have toned down its pressure selling tactics, but it hasn't exactly changed its ways.
Just as before, when you make a ticket selection, the clock starts ticking. When it hits zero, your chance to see your favourite band or sporting event may have come to an end – at least that's what you could reasonably assume.
Given its chequered past, it's no surprise that its recent re-entry on Google coincided with a resurgence of Viagogo complaints to NSW Fair Trading
The message from Viagogo is "please note these tickets may not be available again if you abandon them''.
And while the caveat "on our site" has been appended to messages such as "less than 2% of total tickets currently available" and "123 sections have no remaining tickets", the message seems clear: you'd better hurry up and buy the tickets you've selected or you're not going to the event.
(We were shopping for tickets in section 123. Viagogo seemed to be telling us the two tickets we had chosen were the last two left in this section, one of the best in the house. The "on its site" disclaimer that followed was in a distinctly lighter font.)
And although the price was shown in Australian dollars during the first two steps, on the final screen with the final price we were informed: "This is an approximate conversion. These tickets are listed in TWD [Taiwanese dollars]. You will pay NT$9225."
In other cases, the price started off in Aussie dollars but the final charge was in Euros. The switcheroo could mean a currency conversion fee from your bank. (The final Australian dollar price for our two tickets was $445.)
Our findings are backed up by our sister organisation in New Zealand, Consumer NZ, which recently did a similar investigation and advises New Zealanders to avoid the site.
Google says Viagogo's lack of price transparency, last-minute change of currency on prices and pressure-selling approach don't constitute a violation of its rules.
Google Australia responds
We made the case to Google Australia that Viagogo is still up to its old tricks. But a spokesperson says the screenshots we sent, showing the lack of price transparency, the last-minute change of currency on prices and the pressure-selling approach, didn't constitute a violation of its rules.
"Since 2018, Google has required ticket reseller platforms to demonstrate they meet a number of requirements in order to place ads with us," the spokesperson says.
"This includes that reseller platforms must disclose to customers their role as a reseller, must warn customers that prices may be higher than the face value of tickets, must publish the face value of the tickets, and must provide transparent pricing including the value of fees, taxes and delivery charges."
Viagogo now says on its landing pages: "We're the world's largest secondary marketplace for tickets to live events. Prices are set by sellers and may be below or above face value."
But the messaging – in small letters at the very top of the screen – is easy to miss.
And the original face value of our tickets was nowhere to be found on the site.
Since 2018, Google has required ticket reseller platforms to demonstrate they meet a number of requirements in order to place ads with usGoogle Australia
The Google spokesperson says Viagogo is now "making clear that tickets subject to resale restrictions may not provide access to the event, ceasing advertising tickets for resale where resale is legitimately prohibited, and ceasing claiming that tickets are valid when organisers and event promoters find them invalid".
Yet we didn't see any mention on Viagogo that our tickets may be duds, and Viagogo refused to acknowledge to media in the recent Elton John case that the rejected tickets were fake.
In what appears to be an all-encompassing reach for self-exoneration, the Google spokesperson tells us "we are not the regulator of secondary ticketing".
More like the well-compensated enabler of a dodgy platform for ticket scalping, it seems.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.