--- Depending on who you ask, anywhere from 54% to 80% of online shoppers use consumer reviews before making a purchase
---43% of travelers check out the online reviews of fellow travelers regarding the flight, hotel, and destination experience.
---46% of travellers post hotel reviews.
---Some estimates are that as much as 15% - 20% of online reviews are fake.
Online reviews in sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor and Angie’s List have been invaluable for many but there are reasons to be wary. Many companies discreetly post their own positive reviews, try to get negative reviews removed, and post critical reviews of their competitors.
A plethora of online businesses have sprung up offering to help companies with their unfavorable reviews. Future Solutions claims to “Dispute bad reviews on behalf of our clients.” They accomplish this by trying to get the comment removed for violating the reviewing site’s guidelines and standards. Often the unhappy customer is contacted and offered a refund or large discount in return for eliminating or improving the review.
Some review sites are much more reliable than others. Tripadvisor allows anyone to post reviews – negative or positive – without proving that they have purchased the product or service. Expedia does it right – only paying customers in good standing can post reviews.
One of the most widely used review sites, Yelp, uses an algorithm to sniff out and delete suspicious reviews whose wording seems contrived and phony, such as language that is excessively promotional. On average twenty-two percent of reviews are scrapped. Yelp’s content guidelines:
“Conflicts of interest: Your contributions should be unbiased and objective. For example, you shouldn’t write reviews of your own business or employer, your friends’ or relatives’ business, your peers or competitors in your industry, or businesses in your networking group. Business owners should not ask customers to write reviews.” http://www.yelp.com/guidelines
Another popular review site, Angie’s List, is subscription based and has possibly the most rigorous standards. The site requires “commentators to provide their real names and affirm that their feedback reflects firsthand experiences. The firm also puts itself through an external audit each year to make sure that advertisers aren’t receiving preferential treatment on the site or that ratings aren’t being manipulated.”
Watch out for litigious Amazon! They are correctly sensitive over inauthentic reviews on their site. The mammoth company has filed several lawsuits against sites that sell 4 or 5 star reviews to unscrupulous firms. They are also currently in the courts against 1,000 people who allegedly wrote positive reviews for only $5! (fiverr.com users are you listening!)
Many positive reviews, especially blog posts, are legally legit but not beyond suspicion. Firms offer free or heavily discounted items for an “honest” review. Honestfew.com brokers such deals. Their site states:
“Get free or heavily discounted products in exchange for your honest and unbiased reviews. HonestFew is a tight-knit community that connects growing sellers with savvy buyers who love to review products. Whether you’re a customer looking for deals, or a seller looking to skyrocket your business… there’s something for everyone!” https://honestfew.com/
The world’s largest travel site, TripAdvisor, contains “350 million reviews and opinions covering 6.5 million accommodations, restaurants and attractions.” How do they detect fraud?
“Unfortunately, we can’t tell you exactly how we do it, since that might offer potential offenders a roadmap to subvert our system. We can tell you that we dedicate significant time and resources ensuring that the content on TripAdvisor reflects the real experiences of real travelers. We have quality assurance specialists who have brought a wide range of professional experience to enhance our prevention methods and our team spends thousands of hours every year ensuring the integrity of content on TripAdvisor. We also use automated tools that help flag questionable content for review, and our large and passionate community of millions of travelers keeps an eye out on our site as well.” https://www.tripadvisor.ca/vpages/review_mod_fraud_detect.html
The Clark Howard web site recommends:
“Look for at least 2 dozen reviews for a given business. You want to see a lot of opinions before you can know that there's a credible trend happening. A handful of stray reviews won't cut it. Generally, at least 2 dozen reviews is a good guideline.” http://www.clark.com/should-you-trust-online-review
The popularity and ubiquity of social media does skew reviews on occasion. Daren Fonda writes in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance:
“Bombarded with information online, we tend to rely on social media cues – such as article ‘shares’ or ‘likes’ – to form our own judgements. These signals can trigger herding around a product, and people often amplify the effect by contributing their own likes and shares. What’s more, sites such as Facebook and Twitter use algorithms that interpret social signals and our own online behavior to curate the information that reaches us. It then becomes harder to determine if we’re evaluating a product based on our independent thinking or on signals bopping around in our social media bubble.”
The Federal Trade Commission’s Endorsement Guides:
“Endorsements are an important tool for advertisers and they can be persuasive to consumers. But the law says they also have to be truthful and not misleading. The FTC’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising are guidelines designed to help advertisers of all stripes – TV, print, radio, blogs, word-of-mouth marketing – make sure that they meet this standard. For example, advertisers are advised that using unrepresentative testimonials may be misleading if they are not accompanied by information describing what consumers can generally expect from use of the product or service. In addition, the Endorsement Guides let endorsers know that they shouldn’t talk about their experience with a product if they haven’t tried it, or make claims about a product that would require proof they don’t have.
“The Endorsement Guides also state that if there is a connection between the endorser and the marketer of a product that would affect how people evaluate the endorsement, it should be disclosed. The Guides are not regulations, and so there are no civil penalties associated with them. But if advertisers don’t follow the guides, the FTC may decide to investigate whether the practices are unfair or deceptive under the FTC Act.” https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/media-resources/truth-advertising/advertisement-endorsements
Darren Fonda, “Can You Trust Online Reviews?” Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, July 2016 http://www.kiplinger.com/article/spending/T062-C000-S002-can-you-trust-online-reviewers.html
Crackdown on fake online reviews
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