Guest Blogger

By Matt West, CMO at Feefo

An email asking you to leave an online review for a concert attended a decade ago or a request to review a restaurant that turns out to be a wheelie bin. These are just some of the more colourful ruses that have helped undermine trust in online reviews.

The invitations asking customers to leave reviews for long-forgotten concerts allegedly came from a ticket-resale website trying to shake off negative headlines. As a tactic to restore credibility it failed miserably when yet more bad publicity was triggered.

While mercifully, these are uncommon tactics, the trustworthiness of reviews is not a trivial matter. Reviews are incredibly useful in offering consumers confidence and guidance, saving time when they consider a purchase – whether it is lightbulbs, holidays, cars or houses.

Genuine reviews can be a real spur to a business, kicking it up the backside and enabling it to find out with greater precision what its customers want and where things are going wrong. The vast majority of shoppers still rely on them when buying something, whether online or in a store1.  The question is how much longer consumers will continue to place trust in online reviews.

Unfortunately scepticism spreads like a flu virus when attempts to fake or manipulate reviews are exposed, making the whole issue one that needs to be resolved urgently and effectively. But apart from damaging their credibility, organisations that engage in these practices need to understand that regarding reviews as a potential threat means they deny themselves a huge amount of business insight.

The problem is that anyone can go online and buy off-the-shelf reviews that make a business appear wonderful.  Only last year, the House of Lords European Union Committee issued a warning to companies for misleading consumers with fake reviews and bogus discounts.

What consumers need are reviews they can believe in2 – that have gone through a rigorous and open process of authentication. Businesses in general need to address the whole issue because shoppers are increasingly canny.

While most will not buy ice cream-makers or double-glazing on the strength of a one-star rating, they regard the absence of anything negative in a string of reviews as suspicious. They are capable of extracting what they need, even from poor reviews. The absence of children’s play facilities at a hotel may feature in a series of griping reviews by parents, but be the kind of indicator a couple is looking for when seeking a quiet getaway.

Consumers also like leaving reviews. In fact the bigger the purchase, or the more related to personal taste it is, the more likely they are to leave a short assessment, good or bad. Investing hard-earned cash in a product or service entails a degree of emotional commitment that reveals itself in the long strings of reviews for cars and holidays.

All businesses need to wake up to the fact that going online to share an experience on social media is second nature to ever-growing numbers of consumers and if they cannot leave honest, reviews on the company website, they will make sure they are heard on Facebook or any other social network.

There is no longer any need for businesses to fear negativity – they can learn from it. For example, lousy star-ratings have often turned out to be about the failures of the delivery company and not the product. Using reviews to sort out these problems, means a business can improve its performance immediately without the risk of suddenly being roasted in a fire-pit of bad reviews on social media.

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are now transforming the review sector, too, making it possible to extract what is valuable to either the business or individual consumers from thousands of reviews they would never otherwise have time to comb through. If your business is interested in how a new phone’s battery life is affecting consumer sentiment, the AI will accurately monitor and extract for you what has been said on the topic from thousands of reviews.

We may be in the age of “fake news” and “post-truth” opinions but it is time for falsified or filtered reviews to be banished. Once they are, it is not just consumers who will gain, businesses will learn more about how to improve products and services. They will find out what consumers really think, rather than just relying on how many stars they receive.

  1. 74% of UK shoppers say reviews usually influence them to some extent; 66% of UK consumers most likely to read online reviews after finding out price when considering a purchase – Feefo survey of 2,000 consumers, Feb 2017
  2. Only seven per cent of consumers completely trust reviews – Feefo research, Feb 2017

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