When you go shopping for something in-person, you can see, touch, and try on the products to determine if they are worth buying. Of course, online shopping does not offer that sort of direct, tactile experience. That’s why so many online shopping customers rely on others’ impressions and experiences of a product to help them decide. More than 90% of online shoppers, in fact, consult customer reviews before purchasing.
And it doesn’t stop with online shopping, either. When it comes to an in-person experience, many potential shoppers, diners, etc. also tend to refer to reviews before going to places with which they may not be all that familiar.
In short, customer reviews are important. Online sellers know it. Restaurants, department stores, and mom-and-pop shops know it. And, unfortunately, some unscrupulous businesses may try to manipulate reviews of a product or service to get the overall ratings and sales they want.
While consumers may not be entirely aware of it, customer review fraud runs rampant. And online retailers and review sites are struggling to identify and stop it. Read on to find out more about this pervasive phenomenon.
What are the Different Types of Customer Review Fraud?
There are several different possible sources for customer review fraud. Many of them could be directly motivated by a business owner or online seller:
- Fake review vendors. Here, a seller can hire a company, freelancers, etc. to write up a number of product or service reviews.
- Business owners. The business owners themselves may create fake profiles in order to write glowing reviews about their business.
- Friends and relatives. A business owner could engage their loved ones to write seemingly unbiased reviews.
- Current employees. Potentially for a monetary bonus or some other incentive, current employees could be compelled to write positive reviews about their employer.
On the other side of things, negative reviews could be motivated by things other than legitimate sales or services:
- Past employees. Disgruntled employees seeking revenge could write overly negative reviews about their former employer.
- Competitors. Disguised as a supposed customer, a professional competitor could suggest negative things about a business owner or seller.
- Angry customers. Some consumers who feel slighted by a company may retaliate in a scorched earth kind of way, with exaggerated reviews that misrepresent their actual experience.
What’s Being Done to Stop Customer Review Fraud?
Fake customer reviews are actually something of a double-edged sword for online retailers like Amazon, and review sites like Yelp. On one hand, fake positive reviews, once they’re discovered to be fake, can reflect badly on the platform and its quality controls. On the other hand, these same sites can benefit from the ongoing business they get from the many vendors who are believed to engage in such fraud. Even these sites’ own ranking policies when it comes to a vendor’s number of positive reviews appear to encourage getting those positive reviews in whatever way they can.
Given the amount of fraud, Amazon, Yelp, etc. are reexamining their customer review processes. Initially, safeguards included site registration and proof of purchase for reviewers. Now, they can weed out reviews that are obviously fake. These can be identified with proprietary algorithms and removed. They are also focusing in on reviews for the products and services that seem most prone to fake reviews.
Of course, as investigation and analysis of customer reviews becomes more sophisticated, so do the fraudsters. Need the reviews to be from actual buyers? Then businesses will “sell” their products to reviewers. (In this case, the business actually pays for everything.) Or they could employ an address brushing scam to create a stable of supposed purchasers. And on it goes.
How Can I Figure Out if a Review is Real or Not?
If Amazon or Yelp can’t figure it out, how can you? Well, algorithms are all well and good. But you have smarts and intuition of your own that can help you identify fraudulent customer reviews. When you go through customer reviews, look for:
- Tone. Does a review seem helpful, or is it just a rant? Thorough and explanatory, or just a string of insults?
- Timing. See if there are a bunch of reviews provided all around the same period, particularly ones that appear to share a similar theme. They could be the product of a fake review vendor.
- Grammar and spelling. Not everyone can be Shakespeare. But really confused grammar and bad spelling may point to a review’s illegitimacy.
- Vendor response. Does the business or seller respond professionally to a review? That could tell you more about them than the initial review does.
Customer reviews are and will continue to be a source of confidence for consumers. Retailers and review sites are continually working to try and make sure that that confidence is not misplaced. In the meantime, you can take charge of your shopping experience with your own analytical skills and instincts.
For more information about scams, online shopping, and other related topics, read all about them on the PeopleFinders blog.
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