Fake Reviews: Protecting Customers Is Key to Building Trust

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Retail has seen a seismic shift in consumer purchasing behaviour during lockdown. With a lack of physical stores to access, online retail is thriving as consumers go digital to meet their needs. The increase in online page views (up by 88% YoY in April) has led to a significant increase in the number of online reviews (37% in April alone).

Almost all (95%) shoppers use ratings and reviews to evaluate or learn about products, so both retailers and brands have a huge responsibility to protect their customers and ensure fake reviews don’t negatively affect the consumer experience.

The seriousness of fake reviews cannot be underestimated. They have a huge impact on both consumers and brands’ reputation and bottom line. In the UK, the Competition Market Authority (CMA) recently launched an investigation during lockdown aimed to protect consumers from fake or misleading content.

Why fake reviews are risky business

With fake reviews increasingly in the news alongside scepticism over marketing and advertising practices as a whole, it’s no surprise consumers don’t take what they see at face value. They are on the lookout for red flags including multiple reviews with similar wording and an overwhelming number of five star and positive reviews.

Fraudulent content can be created through a variety of means, including disruptive or trolling activity, commercial messages, automated submissions (e.g. bots, programs, and scripts), illegitimate or degrading content by a competitor, and self-promotion by employees. With review submissions on the rise it is paramount retailers harness human moderation and data-driven anti-fraud processes to ensure all consumer-generated content comes from legitimate consumers.

Setting new standards is vital

Brands who don’t have robust measures in place will pay if they are found to have fraudulent reviews online. In the UK, 48% percent would not buy the product and 43% would lose trust in the brand if they suspected a product’s reviews were fake. And once trust is lost, 78% percent of consumers would avoid using the brand ever again, with 28% stating they’d leave a negative review.

The rise in online demand for products and consumer reliance on finding information about those products and retailers online means it’s time to ensure robust standards are in place. In fact, almost three quarters (72%) of consumers feel the retail sector needs a new set of standards to combat fake reviews. In particular, they feel these standards should stipulate that only verified customers are allowed to post reviews (43%), all products should be tried and tested by such consumers before launch (38%) and that customer content should be reviewed on a daily basis to weed out fake reviews (34%). It’s clearly an issue that consumers feel very strongly about. In the UK, consumers feel the appropriate punishment for breach of these standards should be 12% of overall revenue. In contrast survey, respondents thought the penalty for breaking the terms of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) should be 4% of revenue.

Honesty is the best policy to build brand reputation

Undoubtedly, when it comes to building trust and elevating consumer confidence, authenticity is crucial. While nothing beats direct, personal experience for determining brand trust (76%), the shared positive experiences of friends and family (36%) and other reviewers (29%) are far more important than anything brands convey in their adverts or websites (16%). Once trust has been established and, as long as it is retained, customers are far from fickle. In fact, more than half (54%) of UK consumers would buy from a brand again even after a negative brand experience as long as the trust isn’t broken.

To establish and maintain this trust with consumers, brands must prioritise honesty and responsivity as core values. Within this, customer reviews play a significant role. Brands must ensure that as well as nipping fake reviews in the bud, customers have access to information from real customers which goes beyond simple star ratings and text, including user-generated content (UGC) which details experiences, product features, photos and videos.

Consumers want to see the good and the bad so brands shouldn’t shy away from negative reviews. In fact, two-thirds of UK consumers (65%) think negative reviews are as important as positive reviews in their decision to purchase because they contain more detailed information on the product pros and cons. They also think they are less likely to be fraudulent.

Empowering customer transparency

Customers should always feel empowered to provide honest feedback. There are a number of ways to ask customers for reviews, from post-interaction emails to social media campaigns. Regardless of how a review is collected, brands should never put pressure on customers for positive reviews – whether that’s asking for or incentivising them. Incentives for an unbiased review such as a free product, discount or chance to win, should be explicitly disclosed on any review so as not to impact trust.

Instilling trust and confidence

As well as protecting customers from fake reviews and encouraging honest feedback, businesses must ensure customers enjoy a seamless experience. Responding to publicly posted questions, maintaining good customer services, clear and honest brand and product information are all key elements to ensure brands retain trust. In addition, alongside tools and expertise, valuable new insights from customer content can help brands improve their offerings and help reduce return rates.

Ultimately, it is the brands and retailers that recognise the authenticity of consumer feedback that come out on top. By protecting customers from fake reviews and ensuring transparency and easy access to genuine UGC from other shoppers – both good and bad – they can maximise the potential of a long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationship.

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