Online Reviews Are Not Always Honest

Online Reviews: Fake or Real?

Purchasing things online today has become common for a lot of people around the world. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, consumers spent $601.75 billion online with US merchants in 2019. This figure was up 14.9% from just the previous year. With all the shopping on the internet, the competition for customers can be challenging.

If you have purchased anything online, you know most sellers have some type of product or service review. This often comes with something like a star rating. These ratings are designed to inform customers of quality and customer service. However, the evaluations provided are not always completely honest.

The lack of truth with online reviews can be helpful or damaging to a business. Reviews can also hurt or help a customer. Reading online reviews can be helpful when trying to make a purchase decision. However, don’t believe everything you see. Competing companies, paid reviews, and lies are common. 

Fake Online Reviews and the Competition

With all the competition online for customers today, companies are sometimes resorting to less than ethical or legal standards for business. This can include paying customers for positive reviews, posting negative reviews on competitor websites, and even writing just fake positive assessments themselves to attract more buyers.

The website Fakespot, which is dedicated to helping consumers filter through fake reviews, claims many of the reviews online are not real. This is further shown in a research study by BrightLocal.com that revealed 82% of consumers have read a fake review. The time and energy companies are using to formulate fake reviews shows how important they can be.

It’s not just small businesses and your local area companies using fake reviews on their website. Both Amazon and Facebook have been shown to contain fake reviews. An article by The Guardian estimates that 55,000 fake reviews are posted each month on Facebook.

Companies know the value of online reviews either positive or negative and they are spending a lot of their resources to formulate a strategy for success.

Negative Reviews

Negative product or service reviews can be created honestly. I must admit that I have even written a few negative reviews over the years. The power of the internet has put some ‘Service” back in “Customer Service” with companies monitoring their feedback and social media sites. They almost always want to quiet an unsatisfied customer as quickly as they can.

Although there can be truthful negative reviews, there can also be ones that are created for other reasons. A company that has a competitor might post negative reviews to make that business appear horrible. Also, a negative review could be posted by a customer that just doesn’t like someone at the company and not necessarily from a bad product or service.

eBay is one place I am all too familiar with feedback. Selling on the site for several years now I have built up a good feedback score. However, about a year ago I received my first negative strike from a customer in Thailand. The item I sold was a camera that was 80 years old. I listed the item with a description of it not working or functioning. The buyer on receiving the camera said it did not work.

Talking with eBay I was told just saying an item didn’t work was not good enough. The camera eBay stated should have been listed as “Parts Only”. They would not remove the negative feedback from my account. It is the only negative feedback I have ever received and I have sold hundreds if not thousands of things online through eBay.

It didn’t matter that my eBay account was not set to sell to customers in Thailand (the buyer used a US forwarding address) or that I specifically stated the camera did not work. I still had a negative review.

Negative reviews exist for true reasons, but they can also be created out of only anger or to hurt the competition.

Positive Reviews

There are a lot of consumers that do take the time to leave positive reviews for a product or service they are happy with. However, just like negative online reviews can be bogus so can positive reviews. 

It is not uncommon for some businesses to have their employees write positive reviews. Marketing companies hired to post positive reviews is also another less than truthful tactic used to boost positive feedback for a product or service. The issue of fake reviews is so bad that the US Federal Trade Commission claims 15% to 20% of all online reviews might be fake. 

The Federal Trade Commission claims 15% to 20% of all online reviews might be fake.

With an estimated 17% of online users always checking online reviews before making a purchase decision, positive reviews can have a major impact on sales. This is unquestionably a motive for companies to try and get as much encouraging feedback as possible for people to read even if it means the comments might be less than honest. 

Influencers

It’s not just paid fake reviews companies are using to boost sales, but also social media influencers. Just because a celebrity endorses a product or service doesn’t automatically equal quality. They might not even really use what they are claiming is the greatest thing around. However, they are getting paid well to portray a positive image. 

Fake Online Review Problems

The issue with less than honest reviews being so widespread is that it creates a real problem with consumer trust. Furthermore, it makes the entire system of buyer feedback unreliable. Fake reviews have caused the average American consumer to waste about $125 a year in 2019 shopping online, according to Trustpilot.com

Fake Reviews Create a Problem With Consumer Trust

I typically take online reviews with a grain of salt personally. However, I still do read them before making a purchase most of the time. It has gotten so challenging to know what reviews seem real and which ones don’t. I have certainly been taken for a ride a few times with buying things online with positive feedback only to discover the claims are anything but true. 

With so many online buyers reading reviews to make a purchase decision, the problem with fake online reviews is they only help the less than trustworthy businesses that target unsuspecting consumers to take advantage of them. Positive reviews can make a potential customer more comfortable with making an online transaction. Criminals particularly know this and will use positive reviews to their advantage. 

Is there anything being done about fake online reviews?

Although unethical practices online and even actual crimes seem to be gaining momentum when it comes to legal actions, the truth is the internet is still very much like the wild west. The problem is not knowing that fake product and service reviews exist, but sometimes identifying what is real and what is not. Also, if there are not any real legal complications from false reviews they will likely remain to exist and even might grow to be a bigger problem. 

Luckily, the Federal Trade Commission is starting to take some notice on the issue of fake reviews. This should only make sense because wouldn’t fake reviews seem to be a form of misleading advertising? Isn’t the FTC in place to protect American Consumers? It looks like they might have started to take notice with one of the first cases on fake paid reviews.

The case the FTC brought against a business claimed the company paid a third party to post positive reviews on Amazon to push their product to the top. It likely helped the case involved a weight loss supplement that bordered on issues with the FDA, but it is a step in the right direction for a company to be held accountable for creating positive fake reviews to deceive customers. 

What can you do about fake reviews? 

Fake online reviews both positive and negative are not probably going to fade away any time soon. There is too much at stake for businesses to just do away with product or service reviews. The competition for customers can be aggressive and for online businesses, reviews are one of the tools that can be used to gain an edge. 

Even though it can be a task to decipher real online reviews from the fake ones, there are some steps a consumer can take in order to decode all the noise and conclude on making an informed purchase decision. 

  • Verified Purchase Stamp: A verified stamp is something some sellers are now using. It can require a buyer to register with an email address and prove they made a purchase before leaving any type of review. 
  • Anonymous Reviews: Not all reviews that are left as anonymous are bogus, but it is something to keep an eye an eye out for. This is particularly the case with a review that is long and extremely detailed. Think about this one for a minute. How many people spend a lot of time writing a review and then to just be anonymous? Also, it takes time to write paragraph after paragraph. Someone getting paid to write would be more likely to spend the time to be so detailed and write the next novel on a product or service. 
  • Is the Review a Script?: If you read a review that sounds like a well-thought script, it probably is. For someone getting paid to write reviews it can be easier to use the same basic information over and over. 
  • Negative Reviews: Don’t just trust every negative review you read. If you have ever worked in a customer service-oriented business, you know every customer is not going to walk away happy. Sometimes there are real issues, but other problems could also be unreasonable expectations. People that have some real anger issues also just like to write terrible reviews. 
  • Don’t Just Trust Reviews: If you are making a purchase, don’t just trust the reviews you read. Do a lot more research on the company, product, and service. Look at other websites and do additional online searches. You will be surprised by how one website might have a completely different view than another on a company or product. Check out the Better Business Bureau site and the individual website of a business if they have one and are selling through a third party. 

Final Word

Reviews online are not going to go away anytime soon and neither are the fake ones. With 90% of customers claiming positive online reviews can influence their buying decision, according to Zendesk, companies know the importance of reviews. They realize positive reviews can win the business of a consumer and competitor negative reviews can steer potential buyers in their direction. 

There is too much money at stake for businesses to just forget about their online image and some are using less than ethical or legal ways to gain an advantage. This includes the use of fake online reviews. 

Fortunately, both consumers and the Federal Trade Commission have started to take more notice of the widespread issues with fake online reviews. This can only help in the future with more informed buyers and limiting the practice of fake reviews with more legal actions. 

The Federal Trade Commission states on their website that their mission is:

“Protecting consumers and competition by preventing anticompetitive, deceptive, and unfair business practices through law enforcement, advocacy, and education without unduly burdening legitimate business activity.”

The FTC also goes on to specifically state that one of their strategic goals is to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive practices in the marketplace. Aren’t fake online reviews deceptive or even unfair? 

Until more is done about online fake reviews it will be important for everyone to just realize they should not be taken too seriously. Do your own research on the things you buy and don’t rely completely on the online reviews.

What are your thoughts on online reviews? Do you read them all the time before making a purchase? 

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