“Are you sure you want that TV?” asked my mother a few days ago. “It only has 3.5 stars.” I remained unfazed. I’ve never been one to take reviews too seriously – and with good reason. Buyer beware: fake reviews are rampant on the Internet and – with Black Friday and the holidays on the horizon – odds are, you’ll find yourself skimming one or two in the near future.
Unknown to countless blissfully unaware online shoppers in search of an honest opinion, e-commerce giant Amazon, and other online shopping sites, have a major fake review problem. As it turns out, that “5-star” product you’ve eyeing may not have earned its stars the noble way. Instead, the reviews may have been purchased, not unlike an advertisement.
On Amazon, many third-party sellers are dropping dollars on glowing fake reviews to improve their search results (top-rated products show up higher on Amazon and Google).
Sourcing reviewers isn’t exactly rocket science and is often done via Facebook groups, chat groups, invite-only Slack channels, and Reddit posts. A community of eager reviewers will happily write a few lines in exchange for a few dollars or free product – or both.
Though Amazon is obviously aware of the issue, catching the culprits isn’t as easy of a mission as one may assume. In 2016, however, the company banned free products or massive discounts in exchange for reviews on its platform by third parties.
A 2011 survey revealed that 87 per cent of consumers said a positive review confirmed their decision to purchase a product. With that said, however, only 3 per cent to 10 per cent of customers actually leave reviews.
Despite the smoke and mirrors surrounding reviews, they’ve been a trusted source of insight for shoppers since the early days of e-commerce.
If you think about it, you’re probably more likely to take to the comment or review section if you’re unhappy with a product or service – not to take precious time out of your day praise it (unless, of course, you’re getting compensated to do so…)
Today, positive reviews are pretty much as impactful as advertising – and are more affordable too. On the other hand, negative reviews can have incredibly detrimental impacts on a brand, resulting in unfavourable search results thanks to the algorithms and, subsequently, drops in sales.
Research reveals that small businesses could lose 22 per cent of their revenue from just one negative online article(!).
Armed with this knowledge, the evil set of business people who want to play dirty (and who clearly aren’t concerned about their karma) can easily buy negative reviews to intentionally harm their competitors. Sadly, this is more common than one would assume.
The reality is that fake reviews – good and bad – grace countless online retail platforms, from Best Buy and Walmart to Sephora. Naturally, sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor are also far from immune to the fake reviews.
The good news for shoppers is that websites like Fakespot and others help the consumer’s cause when it comes to assessing how legit a product’s reviews are.
All you have to do is copy and paste the page URL and hit the “analyze” button, so there’s that. Even if a review is, in fact, real, the reality is that – something I am reminded of daily on social media these days (ugh) – the opinions of online strangers should be taken with a big fat grain of salt.
Personally, I would rather ask the opinion of a tech-savvy friend when sourcing electronics, or an aesthetician or makeup artist friend when seeking beauty products.
When it comes down to it, we live in a culture where paid advertorials have replaced earned media, social influencers get paid thousands to post with a product they may never touch again, and perfectly curated dating app profiles often lead to disappointment in real life.
The fact that a community of fake reviewers exists is far from fake news and should surprise nobody, frankly.
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