GUEST ANALYSIS The ultimate survival guide for brands using review content
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is cracking down on fraudulent user generated content, and the brands withholding genuine reviews. Warning shots have been fired and brands are running for cover, but who’s next on the exposé list? Make sure it’s not you.
In February, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published
the results of a fresh round of enforcement as part of a major industry shake-up which saw five online review sites agree to improve their practices. The crackdown is part of a wider consultation which kicked off last summer highlighting concerns about unlawful review practices including the publication of fake reviews, censorship of negative reviews and businesses concealing paid-for endorsements. The CMA has now promised that this year will see further investigations as it steps up the scale and impact of its enforcement activity.
The CMA outed two tradespeople sourcing websites, Checkatrade and Trustatrader, and three care home review sites Carehome.co.uk, Care Opinion and Most Recommended Care, for not providing a "complete picture when making buying decisions."
Carehome.co.uk and Care Opinion had given care homes the option to restrict the publication of reviews, and Checkatrade, Trustatrader and Most Recommended Care had neglected to check if their review content was genuine. All are working closely with the CMA to rectify any unlawful content generation or restriction, but the name and shame tactic has caused a shock wave for brands and marketers utilising reviews.
The CMA has sent a clear warning shot for brands to clean-up their act, but they should also embrace this as an opportunity to clean-up the industry. By implementing transparent online review practices, brands are not just complying with the law, they’re demonstrating that they can be trusted. It’s imperative that brands form open, trusted relationships with consumers. Anything which erodes this trust will tarnish a brand’s image, effectively damaging consumer relationships and resulting in lost revenue.
The data doesn’t lie; up to 95% of shoppers consult reviews during a typical buying journey, 42% of consumers will leave honest reviews – usually focusing on details that enhance the product description in terms of a product or service’s usefulness – 66% of consumers visiting a brand site are looking for new information or verifying pre-existing information.
Eighty per cent of consumers believe that the reviews they read are genuine but only 5% of consumers are starting their purchasing journey on-site. Consumers also want to put a face to an opinion; 6 percent of shoppers refer to blogger and vlogger content before purchase. However, they want wider appraisals beyond their immediate social circles; 61 percent are more likely to trust consumer reviews more than recommendations from their family and friends.
The review industry is estimated to be worth £23bn and online reviews have become a powerful and integrated part of the shopper journey. Brands need to take advantage of how influential online reviews are by maximising the opportunities they offer as well as ensuring they’re following the correct – and lawful – procedures.
Allow for negative opinion
Regulations forbid brands from censoring negative reviews – but they’re not something to be scared of. Negative reviews show that brands have nothing to hide and most people are savvy enough to discount overwhelmingly positive reviews as biased.
In fact, when it comes to star ratings research also proves that the perfect rating, does not fool consumers. Joint research between PowerReviews and Northwestern University to assess the impact of cumulative reviews that equate to an average imperfect star rating. It found that between 4.2 and 4.5-stars is the ideal average star rating for consumers to make a purchase in a number of industries. For example, most consumers shopping for lightbulbs were inclined to purchase when the product had an average 4.5-stars rating. For hair care products, the purchase peak was an average rating of 4.2-stars.
Marketing managers fearing negative content could ignore, or repress negative opinion. That approach is not only unlawful, it’s obviously disingenuous to consumers. For example, a consumer searches for a product and discovers an average star rating of 4.2 stars. According to PowerReviews research, 82 percent of consumers seek out the negative reviews to balance the positive ones. If the negative reviews are restricted, the consumer immediately knows the brand has something to hide and is less likely to purchase because they’ve been denied the opportunity to make a fair decision.
Comb content for fakes
The authenticity of reviews is what makes them so powerful and fake reviews mislead customers, it’s as simple as that. Your review provider should check both negative and positive reviews for fraud and only false negative ones should be removed. Brands should look to publish all genuine reviews – and ensure your review collection procedure allows this - otherwise consumers will spend more time discovering if the content is genuine for themselves (either clicking away from the product page to individual reviewer’s profiles, or looking for brand verification), and become distracted from purchase.
There are a number of ways brands can keep content genuine, one simple example is inviting consumers to review after purchase and marking the review as ‘verified’ following publish. And, there are peripheral benefits to pursuing verified content.
Reviews support product descriptions if the two assets are in parallel. For example, the consumer reads the official branded specification and identifies the product or service is what they need, then they discover the complementary UGC opinion that helps them diagnose if the product description is accurate, trustworthy and useful. Leading brands use reviews to hone product descriptions and images to manage expectations and improve ratings and therefore encourage conversion, and that’s how the whole industry should operate.
PowerReviews discovered that verified reviews supplied via email are more positive than web reviews and average 4.37-stars in comparison to 3.92-stars for web reviews. In contrast, consumers who submit reviews via the web (unverified purchases) have extreme opinions and write more text. There’s no need to fear unverified content if the brand has moderation built into its customer service department and if it’s not a real reviewer, either penned by the competition, a vengeful ex-colleague or spam, good old fashioned customer service tactics will quickly establish if the story is bogus. And if it is a real consumer with a bad experience, do everything you can to fix the problem.
Brands need to remember that both opinions are valuable to a customer, but digital reviews must be qualified as valuable and genuine if the consumer is to be persuaded to convert based on UGC content. The consumer will only act based on their judgement of the content, and if all your reviews are genuine and your customer service is tight they have no reason not to invest.
Paid-for reviews are legal
Third parties incentivised to review products without sponsorship labelling will also fall foul of the law. The CMA has concerns that consumers aren’t made aware of sponsored endorsement and as such, will invest in products they don’t want or need. It outlawed unlabelled content, assured by findings that around 6% of consumers who bought something after reading a third-party review found the product was worse than described. Brands who collaborate with third parties, such as vloggers and bloggers, but do not push for disclosure are in breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs) and UK advertising codes.
But paid-for reviews are legal. Keep above board by providing the third-party with a disclaimer to the third-party and remind them to publish it along with their review. If you’re looking for alternative ways to generate content, sampling is another option open to you. If sampling is in lieu of payment, you can omit a disclaimer legally, but best practice is to disclose the free sample so consumers have transparency again to make up their own mind.
Be reasonable, or pay the price
Adhering to online review practices isn’t just a ‘nice to do’. If you fail on any of these counts, you may be in breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. Consumers trust reviews. And it’s the responsibility of brands and retailers to ensure they are authentic and a source of opinion that consumers can trust.
Anne Marie Checcone Olsen is vice president, EMEA, at PowerReviews.