The Menace of Fake Reviews

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A few weeks back, we bought a few air fryers for reviewing. Two days later, we received a call from one of the brands asking if everything was alright. When replied in the affirmative, they said we could get an electronic toothbrush if we posted a 5-star review on the e-commerce platform from which we bought the items. They sent the same offer on Whatsapp and were a bit pushy about it.

It is anyone’s guess how their product listing appears on all leading platforms. With 4 stars plus rating, they are sure to allure a lot of customers. Unless someone is absolutely disgusted by the product, they would easily be able to convert what would have been a 3 and 4-star rating to a glorious 5-star rating with their offers. And the cycle continues.

It is not just one brand that offers such lucrative deals for positive reviews. Often when you buy products online, the package has a slip that offers Rs.100-200 cash through PayTM for a positive rating. Through Facebook groups, bloggers’ networks, and other means, brands and their representatives allure users with money and products for positive reviews on e-commerce platforms. 

Influence of Reviews on Buying Decision

menace of fake reviews

Researches have time and again proven that reviews play a key role in helping consumers decide whether to purchase a product or not. 

According to studies, the volume of reviews has a significant impact on the purchase decision. Moreover, the percentage of negative reviews impact purchase decision more than positive reviews. Yet another study says that reviews impact the conversion rate of high-priced items more than low-priced ones. It also says that purchase likelihood peaks when the reviews are between 4 to 4.7 stars and decreases when it hits 5 stars.

With many manufacturers depending solely on the D2C route, reviews play a key role in increasing their sales volume. And given these statistics, it is no wonder that brands go to extreme lengths to turn every purchase into a positive review. 

How Big Companies Are Working To Fight Menace of Fake Reviews?

E-commerce portals are employing various means to fight the menace of fake reviews. The community guidelines on Amazon clearly indicate that soliciting positive reviews and other means of manipulating reviews are against their policies. The policy states, “Don’t offer, request, or accept compensation for creating, editing, or posting content. Compensation includes free and discounted products, refunds, and reimbursements. Don’t try to manipulate the Amazon Verified Purchase badge by offering reviewers special pricing or reimbursements.”

In the US, Amazon has sued more than 10,000 administrators of Facebook groups for coordinating fake reviews on their platform. Such groups also violate Facebook’s policies. In the US, more than 12,000 Amazon employees scour through the millions of reviews it receives on the platform to identify and remove the fake ones. However, we were not able to find any reports of such measures being adopted in India.

It is not just Amazon that is trying to tackle fake reviews, recent search algorithm updates from Google too try to take down affiliate websites that rehash reviews and best lists without ever touching those products physically. These websites look at user reviews on e-commerce platforms, many of which, as mentioned are manipulated, rehash the specifications and produce reviews and best lists without ever seeing or touching the actual product. Such reviews and best lists are easy to identify for users as they wouldn’t have actual pictures of the products or them being in use. Instead, they solely rely on the images provided by manufacturers.

But even then, Google still has a long way to go as the first page of most search results of best lists is populated by big publications that are in it solely for the affiliate commission. Such content is often outsourced and has a disclaimer that their journalists are not involved. Big publications have an advantage here as they are considered trustworthy by readers as well as Google, giving them an undue advantage over other smaller publications who play by the rules and review after weeks or months of product testing. Their pages, even if fake best lists, find a place on the first page of Google without any effort as their website overall has trustworthiness in the eyes of Google.

How To Identify Fake Reviews?

menace of fake reviews

Given the inability or unwillingness of the big players to eradicate fake reviews from the root, it is up to users to exercise caution and buy after proper diligence, especially for high-priced products. Unfortunately, e-commerce platforms like Amazon and Flipkart’s return policy offer only replacement on high-priced items and not a full refund. Here are some methods to identify fake reviews in Google searches and e-commerce platforms.

  • If a website only put images provided by the manufacturer and doesn’t show the pictures of the actual product and it working, they are likely to be based on product specifications and not on actual hands-on testing. Better yet, they will likely have videos of the product reviews on their Youtube channel. This applies to Youtube videos as well which provide recommendations of the best products, but never the product working.
  • If a product on an e-commerce portal, especially new ones, has mostly 4 and 5-star reviews and hardly any 1 or 2-star reviews, they are likely to be manipulated. No product satisfies every user. So, if the reviews are genuine, it is likely to be a mix of different ratings and not just positive ones.
  • Numerous images on an Amazon review should raise a red flag. Imagine if you were to write a review without any monetary consideration, would you spend time taking 5-10 pictures or would you just mention the key points and leave it at that?  Most brands require users to put numerous pictures to positively influence prospective customers. So, avoid falling for it.
  • Sort reviews chronologically and check if a large number of positive reviews can be found within a short time span. If so, it is likely to be the result of the brand’s marketing campaign, not organic.
  • Read through the reviews and you are likely to find at least some good samaritan reporting about cashback and gift cards offered by the manufacturer for positive reviews.

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