Fake Product Reviews: Why We Should Do More Than Point the Finger

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Seldom a week goes by without a fake news headline cropping up. This time it’s Amazon’s product pages which have been inundated with ‘fake’ reviews. According to the consumer watchdog Which?, internet bots are responsible for creating unverified five star endorsements for everything from fitness trackers to headphones to smart watches.

Unsurprisingly, many people feel chagrined. The news has rubbed salt in the wound for an internet community concerned with trust, and they need Amazon to step up. “We have clear participation guidelines for both reviewers and selling partners” countered the retail behemoth in the form of a PR statement “We suspend, ban and take legal action on those who violate our policies”. And keen to demonstrate a commitment to finding a failsafe solution Amazon ended by stating: “Even one inauthentic review is one too many”.

Well-meant? Definitely. Achievable? Unlikely.

Amidst the consumer concern and Amazon’s commitment to finding a solution, perhaps we’re missing the point? Rather than ensuring no fake reviews ever slip through the net, surely we should be trying to create an effective system to help customers find the products that meet their standards. Let’s not allow the PR puff to cloud the real issue here.

Reviews are built on trust. Whether it’s a neighbour recommending a local restaurant or an online consumer extolling the virtues of a moisturiser – we’re all relying on honesty and goodwill.

At Product of the Year, we have our own system. We draw from a diverse cross-section of consumers to produce rigorous data. In the UK, we survey over 10,000 people and globally hundreds of thousands more. This data helps us acquire insights into which products they use and prefer. The winning products can then use the ‘Product of the Year’ logo which provides consumers reassurance that the product they are about to buy has been voted for by real consumers. It’s a robust system, though let’s be very clear, we don’t claim to be perfect.

Neither peer reviewing nor ratings are ever straightforward. Too many five star reviews and we’re all a bit suspicious, too few and we’re worried by the lack of endorsement. Perhaps there simply isn’t a magic number.

However, some progress has been made. The British Standards Institute (BSI) has created a voluntary standard for businesses to prevent customers being misled by fake reviews. In its guidelines, the BSI advises that companies should verify that reviews come from genuine customers and that moderators should be allowed to ‘flag’ potentially fake reviews.

A number of startups are also working hard to tackle the issue. Yotpo seeks user-generated content to spot fake reviews and FakeSpot, the reviews and marketing solution for online businesses, analyses consumer reviews. Consumers are also increasingly savvy; many research the products they buy and cross compare with the reviews.

Amazon isn’t perfect, but then no one is and they are certainly engaged with the challenges regarding ratings and reviews. In an imperfect world we learn to create our own guidelines and boundaries – and ‘perfect’ is neither expected or indeed achieveable. Perhaps the reality is what we, the consumer, perceive to be ‘acceptable’ levels of imperfection. We all factor that in when evaluating ratings, reviews or endorsements, using them as one part of the buying decision. An important part, for sure, but rarely in isolation and always, even at a subconscious level, weighting them in importance.  Either way, we believe there is much to celebrate in the existing systems and rather than point the finger we need to focus our time and energy into improving and evolving – to give shoppers what they need to make good decisions.

Ultimately what we want, what we are all striving for, is a better, fairer ecommerce landscape.

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