It may not be surprising that some so-called 'customer reviews' on the internet are in fact bogus reviews designed to hype products and make more sales, but it could be surprising to many consumers just how many are faked, according to the UK independent customer review service Reevoo.
With recent research from YouGov revealing that customer reviews are five times more likely to influence online shoppers than traditional advertising messages, Reevoo's study provides a timely warning as Britain heads toward what is predicted to be a record 42 billion e-Christmas.
Impact of shopper opinion
Six out of ten people (60%) say that online opinions written by consumers who have already bought a product would affect their choice of what to buy. In contrast, only 12% said they would be swayed by online advertising. And despite growing controversy over price comparison web sites - which don't always reveal their commercial relationships with product providers - most consumers (71%) said these would also influence their decision whether or not to buy.
Richard Anson, chief executive for Reevoo, said: "The influence of reviews is no longer in doubt and we think it is time that regulators looked at the way that customer reviews are presented online. Are they edited? Are they legitimate? Given the influence that customer reviews have, now is the time for regulation and standards to be applied, so that customers are not misled."
The call for regulation follows several high-profile cases of bogus online reviews highlighted by the consumer organisation, Which?.
Keeping shopper confidence
The study also noted that shoppers are beginning to become more aware of the possibility of fake reviews, and already won't believe everything they read online. While 79% are influenced by impartial ratings from shoppers who have definitely bought a product, only 14% would trust review programmes that are directly managed by retailers. More than one-third (36%) of consumers said that they are worried about the authenticity of retailer-managed customer review programmes.
In fact, Which? recently reported that some glowing internet profiles of hotels and restaurants are actually written by the hotel owners themselves. Amid concerns that some online ratings are too good to be true, 80% of online shoppers agree that it should be a regulatory requirement for published reviews to be written by customers who have genuinely bought a product. Another 84% think that genuine customer reviews should carry a "kite mark" (effectively a certification of authenticity) making it clear they are from real purchasers and are fully independent of the retailer or manufacturer.
"In the online world opinion increasingly matters," concluded Anson. "Savvy shoppers are sharing opinions and exerting huge influence. While this is a great thing, it is important that opinions can be trusted."