We All Love Consumer Reviews, But Can We Trust Them?

In this piece, Joe Rohrlich, EVP & general manager, Bazaarvoice tells RetailTechNews how having consumer ratings and reviews on your website has become essential to meeting shopper expectations. According to their latest Shopper Experience Index, businesses with customer-generated content on their website now see a 106% lift in conversion and a 119% boost in revenue per visitor.

As reviews become more prolific, the need to ensure the authenticity of reviews is reaching a crescendo. Recent research by CIM for BBC Five Live Investigates revealed nearly half of consumers (47%) using online reviews think they have seen a fake review.

In fact, this number could well fall short of the real figure. Certain reviews sites have been under fire recently because the BBC managed to purchase fake 5-star reviews on their sites. Amazon is also wrapped up in the story as investigators uncovered online forums where Amazon shoppers are offered full refunds in exchange for product reviews. 

Fundamentally, reviews serve as our online proxy for traditional word of mouth, arguably the most ageless form of marketing for any business. Yet the value of word of mouth is only as good as it can be seen as authentic and true. Put another way, the value of reviews (in guiding our decisions) is directly correlated to the trustworthiness of those reviews.

Brands struggle to ignite the word-of-mouth fly wheel

It’s certainly true that more buys equates to more organic reviews – a recipe that works well for established players. However, for many emerging sellers, generating purchases or trial in the first place is the primary challenge. How do I stand out? How do I demonstrate that others have tried my product or service and had a positive experience? 

Joe Rohrlich, EVP & GM, Bazaarvoice

A great example is Airbnb – would you commit to a week in a stranger’s home with fewer than ten reviews? It’s much easier to opt for the ‘Superhost’ with 45 happy guests. This makes it very difficult for challengers to enter online marketplaces.

So, the question becomes: How do I provoke my consumer’s to share their feedback in a way that is transparent and packed with integrity? And how do I avoid fake reviews that could actually damage the believability of my brand’s promise? It is these questions that bear the need for clear industry leadership, process, and technologies that maintain an ecosystem of trust and weed out fake content.

Incentivised reviews doesn’t mean positive reviews

Crucially, ‘incentivised’ doesn’t necessitate ‘positive’ – or more pressingly, ‘fake’. While Amazon can dictate the rules of its own playground, there are plenty of ethical strategies involving incentivising users with something of value in exchange for their review of a product. This could include a coupon, a sweepstakes entry, loyalty points, or a free sample of the product that is being reviewed – so long as this content is disclosed as incentivised when published online. 

In fact, brands should actively be encouraging candour. When products or services have an abundance of overly positive reviews, consumers tend to assume that the content is fake or that negative content has been moderated out.

Quantitatively, we see that negative reviews actually drive sales – we all understand that no product is perfect for every person, and we want to understand the ‘worst case scenario’. For example, a review might share that a new jumper looks great but begins to fall apart after a few wears. For some shoppers, this might be a deterrent and help inform another option; for others, that is fine as they don’t want to spend too much but just want to look great for one evening out.

As a baseline, a retailer should ensure transparency in the source of their reviews and never omit any reviews based upon the star-rating. 

A shared solution

It’s about working together with brands and retailers online to make sure best practices are maintained.

Companies should be aware of the possibility of fraudulent content 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.

Our moderators look out for certain words and language patterns in written reviews to determine authenticity, and our team also looks at the data associated with the submission. This includes, but is not limited to, submission velocity, geographic analysis, and consumer characteristics. Our moderation and fraud-detection teams conduct pattern and data analysis on each specific submission against common behaviours across our entire network to identify reviews submitted abnormally. 

Having both textual moderation and data-driven antifraud processes in place helps us to ensure that all consumer-generated content comes from legitimate consumers, delivering a safe and authentic experience for consumer. Crucially, this doesn’t rule out incentivised reviews, it secures the environment for businesses to safely invest in them.

This content was originally published in RetailTechNews.