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GUEST COMMENT The fake reviews trap – and what to do about it

97% of online shoppers say they are influenced by reviews

Amazon is a regular in the news headlines, however more recently it’s been about the fake reviews and it’s not alone. In a world where ‘fake news!’ has become a common battle cry, are any of us truly shocked to find that they (and other online sites) are still being gamed? Perhaps not, but what is surprising is that increasing numbers of consumers rely on reviews to make a purchasing decision, particularly when buying online – despite it being clear that what we read cannot always be trusted.

Indeed, research shows that 97% of online shoppers say they are influenced by reviews, and it’s been found that 85% of people rely on reviews as much as they do personal recommendations from friends and family. A more recent study found that product reviews are the most important factor influencing purchase 88%, over brand name 71%, social influencers 10% and celebrity endorsements 5%.

The evidence is clear – if you’re selling something, whether online or off (56 percent of consumers read reviews on their mobile devices while browsing instore), you need positive reviews to help convince your customers that they’re making the right decision before they pull out their wallets. Additionally, even if the authenticity of an online review is called into question, there’s a chance that unless you’re collecting in significant volumes, negative feedback — whether it’s true or not —could have significant influence over how your business is viewed. And those perceptions can hit retailers where it really hurts.

So how do businesses protect themselves – and their customers – against the pitfalls of fake reviews and not be tempted to cheat and game the system?

• Keep it to genuine paying customers

In order to truly enhance the customer experience, retailers need to know what their actual paying customers actually think — not just the people who decide to post online. Amazon reviews aside – because these are theoretically paying customers using their own credit cards etc, businesses need to collect insights onsite (and/or online) at the point of purchase. This way retailers can ensure that it’s representative of the vast majority of the customer base, not just a few who may be incentivised to rate favourably via review sites or are the voice of the angry vocal minority.

• Make it really easy

When it’s quick and painless for customers to rate, most of them will! Estimates of the proportion of consumers willing to leave reviews vary, and Amazon are understandably playing their cards close to their chest, but recent research suggests it’s between 3-10% However, by asking one quick question at the point of payment and answering with a push of a button, we’ve found that up to 90% of customers are happy to leave feedback. With such a massive volume of validated customer ratings, even if someone did try to game the system with fake ones, they would have little to no impact.

• Timeliness also counts

Many retailers give customers the option to share their thoughts by including invitations to customer satisfaction surveys directly on receipts or by sending an email after a purchase is made. The problem is, the responses to these surveys may not be as useful or engaging as businesses hope because memory can affect their recollection of the event. In fact Gartner say feedback collected at the point of purchase is up to 40 percent more accurate than feedback collected after the even!. Instead, ask a customer about their experience while they are still involved in the checkout process – this ensures feedback is actually coming from a paying customer and the information provided can be used in a timely fashion

• Keep it anonymous

People are more likely to leave honest feedback, and trust that feedback from others is honest, when it’s completely anonymous.. And perhaps just as importantly, it prevents over-eager restaurant managers pursuing customers who left a negative review.

• Don’t sweat the small stuff

Or in other words, don’t fret too much about the odd negative review. Think more about the sheer number you get.

Some recent and very fascinating findings indicate that shoppers pay far more attention to the volume of reviews than they do to the number of negative ones. Out of two products with the same score, shoppers will tend to opt for the one with the most ratings, even though the statistics mean there’s more chance the poor ratings are accurate. In fact, products with only perfect ratings are mistrusted as too good to be true – having a few lower ratings in there appears to be more convincing.

Remember, the main objective is to get honest feedback from genuine customers. That means that the occasional issue is bound to arise, as no business is perfect – not even Amazon! As a business, be prepared to listen to and act on what your customers are telling you – and that might mean occasionally hearing unpleasant truths.

The good news

Businesses that listen to their actual customers and act on the feedback accordingly find it easier to make their customers happier, increase loyalty, retention, and ultimately, spend.

And they don’t have to worry about fake reviews.

Author: Georgina Nelson, chief executive officer and founder of TruRating

Image credit: Fotolia

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