Fake reviews - shopping with stars in our eyes
Can you trust what you read when doing your research?
How important are ratings and reviews to you when you shop online? Are you more likely to choose a product that has a 5-star review? That’s a reasonable assumption if, in fact, we could trust the reviews we find online. Analysis of millions of online reviews reveal that many are ‘fake reviews’ and some are actually paid for by retailers or brands. How should you factor this into your online purchases?
How ratings work?
You may already have been influenced by a rating without ever having looked at a product review. Ratings are often used by online retailers to elevate a manufacturer or brand within their search results. If you are searching for say, a Bluetooth speaker, it is likely that the 5-star reviewed products will be presented at the top of the list of products. It’s also very likely that you’ll limit your search scope to these highly rated products because you assume the ratings are from consumers such as yourself.
But what if the manufacturer has somehow stacked the deck?
It Starts with Social Media
Believe it or not, there are hundreds of “Reviewer” Facebook pages where sellers (manufacturers) solicit people to write positive reviews for their products in exchange for a large discount, a free product or even cash. Many of these pages purport to simply connect sellers with buyers for “honest unbiased reviews” but can fact facilitate dishonest reviews by allowing merchants to contact members directly. Facebook regularly deletes these groups which quickly pop-up under another, slightly different name or they jump to Reddit boards or websites. Amazon started disallowing paid reviews in 2015 but for 20 years they allowed the practice, if the reviewer disclosed that they were compensated by the seller. Since concerted efforts began to suppress this practice in 2015, Amazon admits it is difficult to keep on top of fake reviews.
One case that received a great deal of attention in 2018 involved Sunday Riley, a skincare brand. It was leaked to the press that an email was sent to all employees encouraging them to post positive reviews on Saphora.com. They were clearly not the first company to do this, nor will they be the last. To appear in the top 10 choices on an e-commerce website could mean millions of dollars in sales.
Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes. Now that you are aware that reviews can’t always be trusted what can you do to protect yourself?
1. Compare ratings across sites
Look for the same product in other places and compare the ratings there. For instance, if you’re in the market for new wireless ear buds and have found a well reviewed set on Best Buy, check if they are also sold at Walmart or Amazon or another online retailer and check the reviews and rating there
2. Look for products with lots of reviews.
Be sure to read a selection of ALL the ratings for a product. The good, the bad and the in between. This will give you a more comprehensive picture of how people felt about the product.
3. Check the positive reviews for anything suspicious.
Look for repeated language through the great reviews. Seeing the same recurring phrases likely means individuals have been coached to say these things. Also, if you happen to see a bunch of excellent reviews clustered around a few days, this is another tell-tale sign the reviews were actively solicited and probably incentivized. You may also see similar product pictures across reviews, again as though the reviewers were coached on how to photograph the product.
4. Use external sites to check reviews.
Fakespot.com is a great site that uses artificial intelligence to help identify fake reviews. They cover a number of major retailers, including Amazon, Saphora, Best Buy and Walmart as well as TripAdvisor and Yelp. They even recalculate an overall rating based solely on reviews they deem to be honest.
5. Raise any issues with the vendor / platform
If you do realise that the reviews you are looking at are fake then you should raise your complaint with the vendor/platform that you see the review on. MyResolver.ca gives you a quick and easy way of doing this. Your feedback will hopefully help other consumers to buy the right thing!
We’d like to believe that consumer reviews are a helpful way of informing our purchases and in general, they are. However, it can sometimes take a little effort to sort the wheat from the chaff. And if you’ve got an opinion about a product and want to leave a review, make sure it’s one that will be helpful to others in their search. Be thorough. Be specific. And above all be honest.