The sudden furore concerning fake reviews for products and services of doubtful quality or integrity should come as no surprise to consumers. From the moment companies recognised there was a direct correlation between the amount of good reviews they got and the size of their profits, the temptation to drive up the latter by increasing the former, by whatever means necessary, has led them into murky waters.
When payday loan brokers, notorious for lending money to cash strapped customers at exorbitantly high rates of interest, get nothing but positive reviews and five stars from almost every customer, it’s time to start asking questions about the authenticity of the review sources. The BBC did just that, and in last night’s report, found that most review sites–because they don’t verify review sources–are little more than promotional funnels for companies prepared to pay for praise.
‘It’s a worrying trend,’ says Mark Reid, co-founder of third party review site, Netfeedback, ‘and something we recognised a long time ago.’ He adds, ‘The most important thing about any review is that it’s from a genuine customer giving an honest opinion about a given product or service. The practice of spreading “canned reviews” online to drive sales undermines the entire ethos of our industry. When you see too many five-star reviews that all have the same tone and don’t have any spelling errors, it’s a sign they’re most likely made up.’
The practice of paying people to write false reviews, and using fake identities– including those of the deceased–has exploded in recent years, mainly because good reviews are so good for business. According to the the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) more than half of all adult consumers rely on reviews before making a purchasing decision, with some £23billion of all sales being influenced by a review. With statistics this compelling, businesses are going as far as Bangladesh to solicit fake endorsements.
‘Effectively, these reviewers aren’t customers,’ says Reid, ‘they’re service suppliers, and the idea that the public is being duped in this way is appalling. It damages trust in companies.’
Reid’s own company, Netfeedback, relies on genuine verified customers giving their feedback via its third party website, which it monitors this through a closely guarded mechanism.
Says Reid, ‘you need to know that the customer is real and that they have bought or used the product or service they’re commenting on. If you take these fundamental things out of the equation, review sites become meaningless because the reviews can’t be trusted. When people know that every review is genuine, that you can stand by that as a third party company, it goes a long way to establishing trust.’