What you can do to spot the fakes
So how can users trust reviews they see on websites like Amazon, eBay or Walmart? We know that reviews can have a high impact on a user’s purchase decision so when a merchant has gamed the system and generated a lot of suspect reviews, the customer is the one that loses out.
The key to weeding out suspect reviews is learning how to recognise reviews that are likely to be fake. Red flags include products that have a lot of very recent positive reviews, a large number of reviews that have photos attached to the review (how many people really do that?), overly detailed reviews for products that really don’t deserve such a write up, reviews that state that the reviewer was given the product free of charge and reviews that are clearly for a different but related product; known as review merging.
Another option is to use a tool such as Fakespot or ReviewMeta. These are both very useful tools that use multiple algorithms to analyse reviews for products to provide the user with an overall score for their accuracy and reliability as well as providing more detailed insight into the patterns that they have discovered. They can even provide an adjusted review rating, which often remove approximately 1 star from the rating. The tools look for patterns which indicate suspect reviews without the user having to trawl through thousands of reviews. Some of these tools even provide a browser plugin that overlay the review score on Amazon product listing and display pages which can be extremely useful. While these tools will not be foolproof, the score and insight they provide should be taken into consideration when making a purchase decision.
The very fact that these tools exist, illustrates that there is a widespread issue with sellers gaming reviews
The future of reviews
So will mistrust in reviews start to erode their value and will customers stop using them as part of their purchase decisions? Without action, I think the answer is: Yes. While this is unlikely to be a sudden change, the slow erosion in trust will continue to lessen the impact that reviews have on conversion rates and their value. Trust is such an important aspect in customer experience. It takes a long time to gain and a short time to lose. Perversely, as the value of gaming the system reduces, sellers will be less likely to pay money to obtain fake positive reviews and therefore they may become more trustworthy again but this would be hard to predict.
Ultimately, the solution is for the marketplace platforms to do much more to prevent this happening. I do not believe that my experience was unique and the fact that companies like AMZTigers, Fakespot and ReviewMeta even exist and openly advertise their services tells us that a problem exists. As trust in marketplace reviews diminishes, this will have a knock-on impact on consumer trust in the marketplace itself. If I can’t trust reviews on Amazon, I am less likely to buy from them so resolving this issue is not just the right thing to do, but it could have a long-term commercial impact.
Marketplaces should dedicate more resources to preventing the gaming of their review programmes as well as making the consequences for breaching the terms more severe. In my case, the seller clearly and brazenly breached the terms but is still selling the same product on the platform. Only where the cost and consequences of gaming the system outweigh the benefits will sellers stop.