Trust and transparency - tackling fake reviews head-on
Trustpilot's Peter Mulhmann discusses the rise in fake online reviews, and the company's commitment to
It’s all kicking off across the pond. In New York, 19 companies have been caught paying for fake reviews, and have been prosecuted alongside a number of ‘reputation-enhancement’ agencies that helped them post misleading reviews online. Operation Clear Turf even saw a fake yoghurt shop set up in Brooklyn to help expose unethical practice, and those involved have been fined a total of $350,000 (about £220,000).
So, how long before the problem hits the UK and the rest of Europe? In truth, fake reviews aren’t a new problem anywhere in the world – with eCommerce set to grow exponentially in the coming years, the opportunity for web businesses to make a fast buck using sophisticated methods of fraud is on the rise. Gartner recently released a report – ‘The Consequence of Fake Fans, Likes and Reviews’ – that says 10 to 15 per cent of all online customer reviews will be fake by 2014.
Hundreds of positive reviews of your products or service may seem attractive at first, but this can be a dangerous game to play. It’s simply bad business and provides customers and prospects with misleading examples of their brand experiences.
Negative reviews are a fact of life; no matter how efficient your organisation, the chances are that one is going to come your way at some point. But don’t fret when it does – the presence of negative reviews can actually add credibility for your company. An apparently squeaky-clean business will always raise a few eyebrows, as the modern consumer is shrewd enough to know that nobody’s perfect.
In New York, the attorney general has said that fake online reviews – or ‘astroturfing’, as they’re calling it – “is the 21st Century’s version of false advertising and prosecutors have many tools at their disposal to put an end to it”. While the UK authorities are yet to put similar measures in place, here at Trustpilot we’re taking our own steps to tackle immoral eCommerce conduct.
Our quality assurance initiative includes the introduction of more vigilant monitoring capabilities to actively seek-out fake reviews and fraudulent reviewers, in order to enforce high quality standards globally. In the first six months of 2013, we removed 40,000 reviews and blocked 25,000 users, and are now calling on the rest of the industry to follow suit.
Online reviews are vital in providing a customer-to-business feedback loop, allowing businesses to improve operations and, ultimately, customer satisfaction. Opening transparent communications with your customers in this way can make people more comfortable buying from you, and the right online review platform can bridge the gap.
The big question for consumers is whether they can still trust what they read online, and the answer is yes. Even if Gartner’s predictions come true, that still leaves a vast majority of real reviews to consult as part of your purchase journey. While the powers-that-be can help by tackling the problem head-on, it will be almost impossible to completely eradicate fake reviews, so consumers must be alert when making a decision – think twice about that shop in Winchester that has a host of five-star reviews from customers in Bangladesh.
We’re in the business of trust and believe in the power of authentic reviews to shape a better online retail experience for all consumers, which is why it’s essential everyone works hard to stay one step ahead of the rise in fake reviews.