Online reviews heavily influence our choices and purchase decisions. But not every review you’ll find online is real.
Fake customer feedback and reviews distort perceptions of a brand or product. They are fast becoming a serious problem for websites that host customer reviews and the customers who rely on them to make a purchase.
Fake reviews come from a number of sources: from people who sell positive and negative reviews to businesses, business owners and marketers who post fake positive reviews to attract customers or fake negative reviews to create a bad impression of their competitors or even customers who have been incentivised to post positively or who write negative reviews to try and obtain a refund, discount or other benefit.
We’ve already looked at how leaving clear and constructive feedback is essential for the wider consumer community. Another big part of being a good online citizen is being able to spot a fake review and report it.
The Resolver system makes it very difficult for someone to make a fake review – the process of raising a complaint requires time and attention which would make it hard to make some quick cash.
However, as we previously reported, platforms like Trustpilot have been using specialised software to spot fake reviews on their platform and even having to go to court to try and crack down on them.
As a consumer you can help to prevent these dishonest practices by identifying and reporting feedback that seems suspicious. Fake reviews may not be immediately obvious or easy to spot, but once you know what to look for you can be more canny in judging the honesty and accuracy of feedback about a product or company.
To determine the authenticity of a review you should take the time to find information about who wrote it. On most sites you’ll be able to click on a reviewer’s name to see their other review activity.
Looking at other reviews they have left should help you make a judgement on whether the reviews are accurate. There are a few obvious signs if the account belongs to someone being paid to post fake feedback.
If they’ve posted loads of five star reviews, reviewed businesses all around the world, or alternatively, only ever reviewed the same business multiple times this is a clear indication that the reviewer might be being paid to post them.
The same goes for someone who has commented on several products in the same category, like fridges or face masks, or a lot of unconnected items within a short space of time.
Ultimately, if the profile doesn’t look like it belongs to a real person then you should keep looking for a more reliable source of information.
The level of detail in a review is a good indicator of whether it is reliable or not. Genuine reviews will contain specific descriptions of products and experiences. Fake ones will be highly generic.
Ask yourself whether the review includes specific details about the reviewer’s experience. If the person reviewing doesn’t seem knowledgeable about the product, service or barely mentions what their own experience with it was like, the feedback is less reliable.
If you want to spot fake reviews keep your eyes out for words or phrases that seem unnatural for a real person to use. For instance, if a review of a water bottle describes it as ‘a highly ergonomic sleek design’ the review may not be genuine.
Likewise, if there are repeat mentions of the name of the brand, product or model: ‘I loved my Dyson 305 XTurbo-cleaner’.
In other words, if a review sounds like a press release or marketing copy, then it may well be just that!
Real reviews are going to reflect real experiences – experiences that aren’t 100% good or bad.
If a reviewer has negative feedback to give, they can still do this in a constructive way. And those who have positive experiences can still suggest where there is room for improvement.
If something sounds too good to be true it probably is. If a company or product is receiving an overwhelming abundance of five-star reviews this may be an indication that the reviews are the result of customers being incentivised or they have been paid for.
There are ways of manipulating feedback so that the best reviews are moved to the top of a page where they are most likely to be seen. Check whether you can change the sort order from ‘Top/Most relevant reviews’ to ‘Most recent’. This will ensure that you get an idea of what the most recent feedback is and the experiences it reflects.
If a lot of positive reviews were posted around the same time, this is a sign that they may not be organic. And if you see a bad review followed by a whole bunch of positive ones, this may be a sign that the company or seller is trying to hide or bury negative feedback.
In general, you may be better off ignoring the five-star ratings completely. Check the four-, three- and two-star reviews to get more honest and accurate opinions of a product or service.
While there are many legitimate smaller businesses and brands, there are many scam organisations that pay their way to the top of listings and take consumers’ money without providing the goods or services promised.
If you don’t recognise a brand, you should do some research to check if they are legitimate. See if the company has clear contact details on their website that make it easy for you to get in touch with them and if there is any feedback from other customers.
There are so many platforms and forums where consumers post feedback and share their experiences.
So if you have doubts as to the accuracy of the reviews you are reading, have a go at searching for the same company, product or service on another platform or website and see how it compares.
Whether good or bad, any review of a product or service can be immensely helpful to the wider consumer community. So another crucial way of tackling the problem of fake reviews is to take the time to leave your own.
We encourage every consumer to leave feedback when they can. Remember, the best feedback is clear, concise and honest so it shouldn’t take too much time or energy to write one and post it somewhere for others to see.
By leaving your own feedback, you’ll be not just be informing others but upholding the integrity of online consumer forums. (If you’re unsure of how to write a helpful review see our article on sharing feedback with the consumer community.)
If you have any thoughts on this topic, or any other consumer issues you would like us to cover, feel free to get in touch with us at email@example.com.