Google is banning secondary ticketing websites from implying they’re primary ticket sellers, and instructing them to be more transparent about pricing.
Buying tickets for an event will often start with a simple online search, but the first page of results will usually feature secondary marketplaces such as Viagogo, GetMeIn, Seatwave and StubHub alongside official ticket agents – even if the event hasn’t yet sold out.
Last year, lobby group FanFair Alliance found that a secondary ticketing website had paid to top Google rankings for 77 of 100 UK tours.
Which? has previously warned that fans don’t always know they’re buying resale tickets – when we asked for feedback from people who have faced issues with reselling sites, nearly half (49%) told us they thought they were buying from the official ticker seller.
Consumers are also directed to resale sites from comparison sites such as SafeTickets.net, CompareTickets.net, BigTicketShop.uk and Tickx.co.uk, some of which fail to make it clear that users are being pointed towards second-hand tickets.
Google’s advertising policy updated
The world’s largest search engine has today updated its AdWords policy, forcing resale ticket sites to abide by a new set of regulations that prevent them from posing as official sellers if they wish to advertise through Adwords.
To be certified by Google, all event ticket resellers must:
- Not imply that they are a primary marketplace
- Prominently disclose themselves as a ticket reseller/secondary marketplace
- Prominently disclose that prices may be above face value
- Provide both the total cost and breakdown of the price including fees and taxes before requiring payment information
- Prominently provide the face value of the tickets being sold in the same currency (this will be required from March 2018)
Google has specifically prohibited the use of words like ‘official’, as well as the artist or venue name, in the website’s URL (for example ‘AdeleTickets.com’).
These rules don’t apply to primary ticket sellers, however they do apply to any businesses that sell tickets both as a primary provider and a reseller (eg Ticketmaster, which owns resale site GetMeIn!).
Aggregators of event tickets, auction sites, and marketplaces that allow ticket resales are also required to be certified.
Elijah Lawal, Google spokesperson told Which?:
‘When people use our platform to purchase tickets, we need to make sure that they have an experience they can trust.
‘We think that event ticket resellers that agree to these new transparency requirements will provide a better and safer user experience on our platform.’
Which? response to Google’s policy update for ticket resellers
Alex Neill, Which? Managing Director of Home Products and Services, said:
‘Google’s changes to its secondary ticketing policy are a step in the right direction, but websites must make it absolutely clear to consumers whether they are a primary or secondary seller. If secondary sites don’t also provide clarity on ticket restrictions, ticket location and seller information, they could be in breach of the Consumer Rights Act.
‘With people increasingly finding that they have to buy tickets through secondary sites, it’s right that the Competition and Markets Authority is investigating the sector and taking action against companies that aren’t playing by the rules.’
The problem with ticket resale sites
Following a year-long investigation into the sector, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced in November 2017 that it will take enforcement action against a number of resale sites for breaches of consumer law.
The secondary ticketing market has made a few improvements since we investigated resale sites back in 2015, but it has a long way to go before it might be described as transparent.
The CMA has decided to take a closer look at a number of additional issues beyond the scope of its original investigation:
- Pressure selling – whether claims made about the availability and popularity of tickets create a misleading impression or rush customers into making a buying decision
- Difficulties for customers in getting their money back under a website’s guarantee
- Speculative selling – where businesses advertise tickets that they do not yet own and therefore may not be able to supply
- Concerns about whether the organisers of some sporting events have sold tickets as a primary seller directly through a secondary ticket website, without making this clear to consumers
The CMA will decide whether further enforcement action is required once it has assessed evidence on these additional issues.
It’s working alongside both the Advertising Standards Authority, which is investigating whether secondary ticketing websites have broken advertising rules, and Trading Standards, which is looking at the practices of businesses that buy and sell tickets in bulk.
How to avoid being ripped off
While Google has made an assertive move and the CMA is putting pressure on resale sites, it’s still important to tread carefully if you want to avoid being ripped off.
Sign up for ticket alerts
Join the fan clubs and mailing lists of your favourite artists, festivals, venues and primary ticket sellers for reminders of when tickets go on sale.
Bag pre-sale tickets
For some events, tickets are reserved for pre-sales a few days before being released to the general public. Check for advance notice on gettothefront.co.uk and beatthetouts.com, and sign up for O2 Priority (you need an O2 Sim card to do this).
Buy from authorised ticket agents
The venue’s box office is often the cheapest and most secure option, but you should find a list of all official ticket agents on the artist’s or venue’s website.
Use search engines wisely
Before you click, check whether you’re dealing with a primary agent or a secondary marketplace and watch out for sites like SafeTickets.net, CompareTickets.net, BigTicketShop.uk and Ticx.co.uk, which link to resale sites.
Don’t assume it’s sold out
Tickets can be allocated to a number of primary agents, so they might be ‘sold out’ via one agent but not another – and they could still be available from the venue.
Alternatives to touts
If a show really has sold out, you can find cheap last-minute tickets on StubHub and GetMeIn – but free fan-to-fan exchange site scarletmist.com only lets users buy or sell spare tickets at face value or less, so check there first.
Twickets.co.uk and TicketSwap.com also offer cheap resale tickets for a small fee (Twickets takes 10% from buyers, while TicketSwap charges both the seller and buyer 5%) and mobile ticket app DICE offers face-value tickets to fans on the waiting list for sold-out shows.