Shoppers rely heavily on customer product reviews when deciding a purchase, with recent research showing over three-quarters used ratings and reviews before buying.
But when so many of the entries are potentially fake and PR fluff do they bother?
The ongoing issue involving Trip Advisor is surely a warning. Ex-employees rubbishing their former employers in dire on-site reviews and their employers then retaliating with fake positive reviews highlights the serious weaknesses in such online feedback platforms.
There are examples of members of staff, journalists and marketing departments getting involved in posting reviews on many retailers’ websites. One culprit among the many is Boots, which asked its staff to populate its site with positive reviews with a concentration on specific categories – supposedly to ‘push’ these goods.
Another potenially questionable scenario involves Figleaves.com that had 60+ reviews from one specific individual who had written extensive positive reports in perfect PR-like prose on a host of different products.
This could innocently be a lingerie-fixated crank with too much time on their hands. But cynically it is surely more likely to be somebody who has been paid to write these slick (or sickly) outpourings
Ed Lennox of online feedback forum Feefo (used by the likes of Fat Face, The White Company and Jack Wills) clearly has a product to flog but he is vociferous in his contempt for rival platforms that he reckons are effectively feeding the shopper duff information.
“The retailer is initially being hoodwinked by the product review vendors and so ultimately is the customer. They [the vendors] are effectively selling blogs written by anybody and moderated by the site owner,” he argues.
Bad reviews are therefore vetoed or the negative element removed so they only read as positive spin. Lennox’s argument is that only people who have made a legitimate purchase should be able to leave a review on a retail site. And only those reviews that are clearly contentious or are legally questionable should be removed.
If these were the rules by which all platforms played then maybe the product reviews we all read might be just a little more interesting – and more importantly, honest.