Authentic or Fake? Demystifying the world of online reviews
By Naveen Aricatt, UK manager and legal expert, Trusted Shops
In the real world of bricks and mortar, we can see if a shop is busy, or if people are lining up outside the door of a restaurant. We look for these indicators to guide our choices, to provide the social proof we need to validate our decisions. However, in cyberspace, with the behaviour of other people not directly visible, we rely on other indicators – most commonly, customer reviews. In fact according to the Competition & Markets Authority, £23 billion of UK consumer spending per year is being influenced by online customer reviews which presents a huge opportuniy for retailers.
Reviews are all over the Internet and are used by consumers far and wide. Not just to guide and validate their purchase decisions but to make choices about where to travel, which restaurants to eat in and what local services they can benefit from. For retailers who encourage feedback, this is an invaluable source of information on which they can benchmark their performance and improve services.
True or false?
What’s difficult to control however, is the anonymity provided by the Internet that enables people to write virtually anything they want. Most people will be familiar with open platform review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, and many will have used them for recommendations themselves. Unfortunately the development of these platforms has gently encouraged the invalid and false feedback that is being given online. Stories of rival restaurateurs posting ‘grudge’ reviews on websites are infamous, and just last month TripAdvisor was being investigated over concerns that it wasn’t doing enough to prevent fake reviews being displayed.
With this rise in online manipulation, organisations have had to make difficult choices when it comes to their brand reputation. A recent news story can attest to this. Sports Direct is currently being probed by the Consumer Rights Act over allegations that it is blocking and distorting negative reviews in an attempt to boost sales. Not only is this misleading and dishonest, it is also illegal.That’s not the only news making its way onto the agenda however, in fact Amazon is now taking legal action against more than 1,000 people who have been paid to write fake reviews, so the problems are two-fold. Retailers have seen both handling feedback badly and also in some cases, paying individuals to encourage sales as well.
Facing the inevitable and mitigating masqueraders
Inevitably, negative comments will crop up now and then but these should not be disregarded or deleted. In the same way, retailers must be vigilant in terms of spotting when reviews are sensationalised or overly positive.
With consumers placing so much emphasis on online reviews these days, how can retailers take steps to capitalise on their feedback while ensuring against fraudulent complaints masquerading as legitimate customer reviews?
By working with third parties who specialise in trust building measures and review systems, organisations can better understand the process for handling feedback and ensuring it doesn’t negatively impact the brand.
Firstly considering verification methods is important to ensure that reviews only come from genuine customers with well-informed feedback. Closed review platforms make this a possibility, ensuring that customers are verified before a review can be left.
Review scanners can also be used to detect abnormalities in feedback which can be flagged to review moderators as suspicious and manually approved before publishing. While this does not mean the system filters out negative feeback, it does mean the brand can respond quickly and effectively to their consumers and review their performance accordingly.
Additionally businesses can remove some of the anonymity in reviews, by connecting reviewer profiles to social profiles, which adds a layer of authentication and deters many people from posting fake comments.
A race against time
More often that not, however – if these tools aren’t in place retailers need to react when the inevitable happens. By dealing with the situation professionally, it reflects well on your business as a whole, and reassures people that you can handle it when things don’t go according to plan. By building a rapport with the customer after a bad review retailers can rectify the damage with relative ease.
Fake reviews and professional complainers aside, online recommendations are a great way to provide the social proof people crave to validate their purchasing decisions. When collected, managed and displayed effectively, they prove to be a recipe for high conversion.
Naveen Aricatt, LL.M is a postgraduate in Computer and Communications Law from Queen Mary University of London. In her function as Trusted Shops’ legal expert UK she is responsible for legal matters in the UK. She co-authors the Trusted Shops handbook for online retailers which is regularly updated and writes about legal issues that are of relevance for online retailers in the Trusted Shops’ UK blog. Naveen has been with Trusted Shops since 2009.