Should We Trust Reviews Online?

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No matter what product or service you are about to buy, you will most certainly find hundreds of online reviews on it. All you have to do is Google.

It’s likely that you’ll find super positive and radically negative reviews on the very same product, and only some of them will be real.

Online reviews are controversial. They are considered a helpful decision-making tool in the consumer world and a powerful manipulative weapon in the world of marketers. That’s why you should learn how to spot fake online reviews.

Why Do We Need Online Reviews In The First Place?

When you’re about to purchase something you don’t know much about, it’s natural to seek advice. Especially, when it comes to buying something expensive like gadgets, cars, or trips to exotic countries.

Before proceeding to payment, we all need some reassurance that the brand we picked is the best on the market or the service we chose is worth all the money it costs. That’s why we read online reviews.

If you don’t read online reviews, you represent the minority—a super-minor minority, in fact. As it turns out, a whopping 92% of people read online reviews before making a purchase. The level of trust people put in online reviews is high, too. Statistics tells us that 85% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from people they know.

Online reviews feel helpful and comforting, but are they?

Are Online Reviews Trustworthy?

The short answer is “not really.” According to a survey of BrightLocal, as much as 79% of consumers have read at least one fake review in the last year. What is even more alarming is that the majority of consumers (84%, to be perfectly accurate) cannot tell a fabricated review from a real one.  

Fake reviews are everywhere. You can find them on virtually any shopping platform, including big names like iHerb, Yelp, TripAdvisor, eBay, and Amazon (speaking of Amazon, rumor has it there is an entire ecosystem fueling an Amazon fake reviews crisis).

People get paid for submitting fake reviews, both good or bad. Some companies pay to get more positive reviews about themselves, others pay for negative reviews of their competitors. Whatever the case, the outcome is the same: consumers like you and me end up following misleading recommendations.

There is an entire industry built on these tactics. Try to Google something like “rapid reviews generator” or “testimonial generator” and you’ll see how many options dishonest marketers have at their disposal.

The level of “fakeness” varies. In the best case scenario, people are “encouraged” to share their opinion on a product or service they actually used. In the worst case scenario, those who write reviews have never even tried a product or service they recommend.

What Percentage of Online Reviews Are Fake?

According to the most recent statistics available, as many as 15% of all reviews online are fraudulent. However, the rate is significantly higher for popular platforms such as Amazon, Yelp, or eBay.

As industry expert from Fakespot.com states: in reality, around 40% of all online reviews on Amazon are fake. That’s nearly half!

The situation is not much better on Yelp. It is estimated that up to 25% of reviews on the platform are not real.

If you are used to buying things on eBay, you should know that the platform’s founder Pierre Omidyar committed $100 million to solve the problem of fake reviews on eBay. Given the sum pledged, chances are high the percentage of “fakes” on the platform is above the average.

Summing up all said above, fake reviews are common, and you should be extremely careful when trusting recommendations online.

Why Are There So Many Fake Reviews Online?

The answer is simple: buying fake reviews is cheap and effective.

Let’s talk effectivity first. According to surveys, positive customer reviews boost sales by 18%. What’s more, such reviews make customers spend on average 31% more. As scholars from the Harvard Business School found out, just one additional star in ranking on Yelp increases the revenue of a restaurant by 5 to 9%. Pay more to add three stars instead of one and get a revenue boost of almost one-third.

Now it’s time to discuss the financial factor. Long story short, fake reviews are not expensive. Some companies offer them for as little as $5 per post. In some cases, companies ask people to write positive reviews for a 100% discount on what they sell. Some brands use gift cards for the same purpose.

The cost of fake reviews varies from platform to platform and brand to brand, but in all cases, the investment pays off.

How to Spot Fake Online Reviews

It won’t hurt to learn how to tell fake reviews from real ones. Although some fabricated reviews are so high-quality you can hardly notice something is wrong with them, the majority of fake reviews are relatively easy to spot. Let us teach you how:

  • Stay away from reviews that use general, commonly used statements like “cool product,” “high quality,” “highly recommend,” “the best product of all,” or “I’ll never buy this again.” Such statements can be easily used for any product or service you can imagine, which is why they are common for copy-pasted fake reviews.
  • Investigate the account of a reviewer. If it’s anonymous, recently created, or does not have any review history, chances are high it was created for one particular reason, which is to post a paid fake review.
  • If you notice a list of extremely negative or super-positive reviews, don’t trust them. In most cases, this means a paid PR campaign sponsored by a brand itself or its competitor (in case the reviews are bad).
  • Pay attention to the language. Does it sound natural? If you were reviewing that same product, would you make a similar word choice? Real reviews contain many details and very concrete complaints or praises.
  • Look at the time frame. If you see lots of entirely positive/negative reviews posted over a very short time, you shouldn’t trust them. In most cases it’s an indicator of either a troll or a crowd-marketing campaign.

If it sounds like too much work for you, consider using online services such as FakeSpot.com or ReviewMeta.com. All you have to do is to copy the URL containing the review you think looks suspicious and the service will check its trustworthiness for you.

Have you ever fallen a victim to fake online reviews? If so, please share your story with our community. If shared, your experience might help others avoid the same mistake in the future.

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