Will online reviews keep their Teflon reputation?

Source: bestbuy.com
Jul 02, 2021

A number of reports point to user-generated online reviews being besieged by fraudulent posts. Despite this, a YouGov survey again showed most consumers trust the reviews they read online.

Among U.S. respondents to the survey taken in late April, 54 percent say they trust such sites, 21 percent say they distrust them and 24 percent were undecided. Among 18-39 year olds, 66 percent say they trust review sites. Overall, 78 percent of Americans found online reviews useful.

The reliability of reviews is being questioned by the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which on June 25 launched a formal probe into whether Amazon.com and Google are doing enough to combat fake reviews.

“Our worry is that millions of online shoppers could be misled by reading fake reviews and then spending their money based on those recommendations,” said Andrea Coscelli, CMA’s CEO, in a statement. “Equally, it’s simply not fair if some businesses can fake 5-star reviews to give their products or services the most prominence, while law-abiding businesses lose out.”

On June 16, Amazon in a blog entry called out social media firms for not doing enough to weed out dishonest reviews. Amazon has stated that less than one percent of the reviews on its platform are fake, but noted in the statement that the company stopped more than 200 million suspected fake reviews in 2020 before they were seen by customers.

The Fake Online Reviews 2021 report from CHEQ and the University of Baltimore estimated that about four percent of global reviews from major platforms are fake. Beyond competitor attacks, fake reviews are often created and sold in underground markets at a commission rate of 25 cents to $100 per review, according to the report. Increasingly, they’re written by AI-driven bots tied to paid search and social-media campaigns.

“Given the size of the market, the ease of entry and the immediate economic benefits, bad actors remain highly incentivized to engage in fake reviews,” Roberto Cavazos, co-author and director of Risk Management and Cybersecurity programs at The University of Baltimore, told Infosecurity Magazine. “This complex market is adversely influencing our purchases, causing significant economic detriment, creating real revenue losses for businesses, and severely diminishing trust in online purchasing.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How is it that fake online reviews have yet to negatively affect consumer trust levels? Will the pervasiveness of fake reviews likely expand or diminish over the next few years?

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"The online review process needs improved vetting or consumer skepticism will increase and ultimately the value of reviews will decrease."

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15 Comments on "Will online reviews keep their Teflon reputation?"

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Neil Saunders

Fake reviews are an issue and they can convince consumers to buy things under false pretenses. However reviews are only one of many things consumers look at when purchasing unfamiliar products or using services they have not used before. It is sometimes easy to spot fake reviews because of the way they are written or because, mixed in with them, are some negative reviews from consumers who have been burned. That’s not great for those consumers but it is one of the reasons so many people will filter on and read 1-star reviews as part of assessing whether to buy.

Paula Rosenblum

I have a friend up in Washington State who started to receive unrequested products from Amazon Marketplace. She didn’t have to pay for them, but she didn’t want them either. Apparently this is part of some scam where they then have a “verified purchaser” and then write a review in her name. Amazon apparently knows nothing about these “orders.”

In any case, because online reviews tend to be so “squeaky wheel” oriented, I take them with a grain of salt now. I pay some attention to them, but only when the number of them is significant. I also look at the worst reviews along with the best.

I have no clue why consumers still trust them. It’s not subtle.

Suresh Chaganti

One of the key reasons is confirmation bias. People make the decision and then look to justify it. When the decision is already made, most don’t want to invalidate that, and cognitive dissonance kicks in — blocking the negative feedback. It is the same thing as when people fall in love with a house, car or anything, and then go on justifying it even in the face of new negative information.

Brandon Rael

Product reviews have played such a big part in the digital product discovery experience. With the emergence of fake reviews, and customers questioning the legitimacy of these reviews, it has become a concerning development. This will require customers to seek other objective sources and opinions before taking the plunge with an online order.

My 10-year-old daughter said recently about online reviews, “I don’t know if these reviews are real, and I don’t know if these people are telling the truth.” She does have a valid point. As a Gen Z emerging consumer representative, they seek truth and transparency when they engage with brands and retailers. They will absolutely question the legitimacy of online reviews.

Ian Leslie

I think more and more Gen Z will look for the community aspect and the back and forth between the brand and the customer, particularly on poor reviews. What did the brand do to solve the situation? Did they turn the reviewer into a brand advocate?

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

Research supports the widespread use of online reviews. Often their use is to support predispositions to purchase a particular product. Isolated fake reviews, positive or negative barely move the overall rating. No doubt fake reviews will continue. The issue is not the use of fake reviews as much as the negative implications associated with consumer purchasing decisions (positive or negative) generated by fake reviews.

The online review process needs improved vetting or consumer skepticism will increase and ultimately the value of reviews will decrease.

Georganne Bender

I spoke to someone at Yelp recently who told me that 5.0 reviews are generally not considered to be the best. When an item has between 4.0 and 4.5 they tend to be more believable as authentic. Most consumers who read online reviews are smart enough to figure out if they are truthful or not. You can usually tell which ones are fake.

I don’t read a lot of product reviews unless it’s for a big purchase. What I do rely on is hotel reviews on TripAdvisor, especially when the reviewer has provided photos.

Doug Garnett

I don’t think online reviews have a Teflon reputation. Instead, potential buyers wade through them expecting a combination of valuable reviews, not useful ones, and fraudulent ones. As long as they are able to discern the valuable information in them, then they will be happy.

And by and large, reviews deliver that. So when customers tell YouGov they “trust” reviews, we need to be cautious — they don’t mean “trust absolutely.” They mean “we trust that we can discern what’s important in them.”

Robin Gaster

Excellent points, Doug. Ironically, Amazon’s default setting of “best” reviews is far less reliable than “most recent.”

Amazon’s recent call for social media companies to fix the problem is really just nonsense. The professional business press has dutifully reported Amazon’s claims even though they literally make no sense at all: how exactly is Facebook supposed to police Amazon’s platform? The problem of course is with Amazon — it’s recent shift to allow star reviews with no text (which generates many more reviews) encourages fake reviews by not even requiring English language capabilities.

Harley Feldman

There are three reasons that fake online reviews do not have a negative effect consumer trust levels: 1) there are plenty of authentic reviews, 2) many readers like me spend the time to read many review and develop a synthesis of what the reviews say, and 3) it is only one source of data amongst many others that consumers use as input for purchase decisions. The pervasiveness of fake reviews will not be any stronger in the future. Consumers and retailers will discover them, and they will be ignored or deleted.

Craig Sundstrom

I flat out disagree with Tom’s assessment that “fake online reviews have yet to negatively affect…”: so half trust them … well, then, half don’t; that pretty negative in my book!

I think people use their judgement (imagine that!) It’s not ideal, but it’s probably the best we’ll ever have.

Ryan Mathews

Fake reviews work because we live in a social culture that is increasingly less critical at the same time it is more driven by self-affirmation. This means folks tend to believe people who appear to believe what they do. My bet is that in the future reviews will both expand and lose credibility as more and more consumers get burned falling for them.

Shep Hyken

Fake reviews have been and will continue to be a problem. That said, the average American looks at 2.8 and 4.2 reviews before buying products. 67% of Americans think ratings and reviews are going to be more important in the future.

Rachelle King

According to CHEQ, 96% of online reviews are real. This is why the fake reviews have not yet had an adverse impact; it’s still fine to trust most of them. But fake reviews will always be out there and sites should take steps to minimize as much as possible.

The issue is not just the bot generated fakes but also the promotional incentivized fakes where consumers are rewarded for writing good reviews. This particular practice has to stop. This is one way to avoid the bot and still get a potentially fake review. Given the importance of reviews in the purchase decision, it’s likely that some suppliers will continue to look for ways to tip the scales in their favor despite efforts to keep reviews honest.

Ian Leslie

Did they still have a Teflon reputation? I think reviews are interesting in that you have the issue of 1) so many are fake; 2) merchants are doing a lot in terms incentivizing the “real” ones but even those are a little slanted; and 3) there is so much curation on the merchant end. That being said if you can find a company that is honest about its reviews and doesn’t have 20K reviews for a product that came out yesterday, I feel that does go a long way within the buyer journey. Unfortunately, I do feel we’ve reached a place where people care more about the negative reviews than the positive ones.

"The online review process needs improved vetting or consumer skepticism will increase and ultimately the value of reviews will decrease."

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