Whether choosing a restaurant, travel destination for your holiday or basically any future purchase, many of us have the instinct to check online reviews. This isn’t just a guess – it’s reality. Consumers are placing their trust in consumer reviews, which absolutely affects their purchasing decisions. According to a 2015 Nielsen survey, 66% of respondents trust opinions posted by other consumers, which makes reviews all the more important for merchants to understand.
It can be difficult to establish if the negative opinion stated in a review is actually directly related to the product or service they received. Maybe they had a bad delivery experience, or they didn’t check the description properly? Whatever the reason, negative reviews are never a good thing for webshops. Problems with the authenticity of consumer reviews on the Internet can be found across all industries, but also on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, etc. Online shoppers are becoming more and more aware of these types of reviews, especially as well-known news sources cover the issues, including the BBC and the Guardian.
Ok, so there are some truth bombs for you – now for my take on this. Personally, before I buy a product online, not only do I look at consumer reviews, but I tend to read the most negative ones first. I prefer to know if it’s something worth buying, and I figure I can determine this from actual customers who have already bought and used the product. I’m looking for an objective and reliable opinion -- I feel I get the most honest opinions and can see the probable downsides of a purchase from negative reviews. Nothing truly proves their reliability or legitimacy, just as nothing proves to me (in my opinion) that positive reviews are also verified. But for some reason, this is the way I do it… That said, sometimes the info I get from consumer reviews makes me even more confused about whether I should buy it or not.
In fact, whether there are fake positive opinions posted by the seller himself, his entourage, or a communication agency -- or negative opinions written by a competitor or any other malicious person, the reviews can quickly become deceptive and have a huge impact on my decision to buy. There’s actually a word for this…It’s called ‘astroturfing’, and it’s becoming more and more popular on the Internet. Nowadays, it’s quite normal for retailers and manufacturers to request positive reviews of their products or services on various websites, sometimes offering discounts as a reward. Advertising and PR agencies have also adopted this technique, posing as satisfied consumers. It’s a sad truth, but sometimes reviewers who seem to be genuine are actually far from it. Nevertheless, there are some key clues to help in spotting the difference between a fake review and the real deal.
First, check the distribution of opinions via the percentages: If you see 80% favorable opinions and 20% unfavorable opinions, you can evaluate the likelihood of the reviews being a realistic and balanced view of the product’s quality. By just glancing at the distribution of the reviews across the scale, you can establish if you can be confident in the average rating. Once the distribution of the opinions is verified, take the time to consider what’s in the review. Before reading the text, look at the profile of the reviewer. Are they a regular customer? It is possible to figure this out by scrutinizing the profile –there’s a lot of useful information: all the recent opinions, if they are certified as a "verified buyer", the dates of publication of the comments, their photo, and if their comment has been seen and is rated ‘useful’ for other consumers.
All these elements are important in evaluating the credibility and legitimacy of the reviewer, and therefore of their opinion. These suggestions are not to say that a profile without a photo is necessarily a false one, but it can raise the question of reliability and is something readers should be aware of. On Amazon.com, it’s also possible to see if the consumer has left other reviews and on what date. If there are loads of reviews for different products on the same day, I know I would be doubtful about the legitimacy of this consumer. Once I check a profile, I can better analyze the opinion of the reviewer. Here too, it’s possible to know if it’s useful or not very valuable, which is the main concern for most consumers. Also, I tend to avoid long reviews -- I’d much prefer to read a short and concise opinion that answers my question rather than being confronted with a long opinion. To be honest, when I see a super long review, I immediately read the last sentence to get the gist of their opinion. I also keep an eye out for fake reviews with the vocabulary used: emotional words and, most important, use of the first-person singular.
Nowadays a large majority of websites contain the status, ‘verified purchase(r)’ as proof that the reviewer really bought the product. However, this isn’t even a for-sure bet, as I learned when I found reviews of ‘verified purchasers’ with text like this: "I have not finished the book ... so it's a bad book."
The positive reviews I consider true are a bit shorter, possibly with photos illustrating the comments, the status of ‘verified purchase(r)’, and a complete profile. Better safe than sorry -- you’re more likely to spot the fake reviews when you use this model, and you’ll be happy you did!
Adlen Khelladi studies Business and Management of International Affairs at the Lille University of Sciences and Technology, in Lille. He joins the Ecommerce Foundation to learn more about Research and Marketing. He currently works on the national reports of 2018, gathering and analyzing data, and synthesizing it for each report.
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