We’ve recently seen evidence that more companies are creating space on their sites for customer reviews. According to Alterian, 74% of Americans use online comparison sites to gather product information. While this seems like a straightforward case of increasing adoption, we think it might signal a shift in how people use reviews.
While writing Liminal, we saw that customer reviews did not perform well with respect to the six engagement elements. People are becoming skeptical of reviews, not trusting what they read. Those of us who have read customer reviews regularly expect to find the glowing alongside the devastating. Evidence from some industries indicates that people with very good or very bad experiences are among the most likely to post in the first place. Unfortunately, the general exuberance of these reviews makes them useless to the majority of us.
Corporate America is starting to pick up on this trend. The article “Amazon Fake Reviews get More Subversive“ shows how companies are taking a new tack in creating fake product reviews. They’ve given up on the “rah-rah” and started simply mentioning the names of their products. To wit:
“I used these with an Onkyo HT6100 HTIB system, and everything worked out fine. I was a little worried at first because the mounts are plastic, but they were plenty strong enough to handle the Onkyo speakers which are about 12 inches tall. Good mounts at a good price! -Nick“
This is clever for a few reasons. First, it gets the product name out in a positive light, but still sounds natural enough to have come from a real person. Second, it makes us think that the writer has experience with the actual product.
Performing due diligence while shopping means fact-checking anything that you read – period – but that’s what makes these new reviews so devious. The point of product reviews is to give us a shortcut. We hope that somebody with more time and interest in a product has already done the legwork. Just give us the expert opinion! And honestly, who is going to fact-check a product review?
Retailers have little incentive to pull positive reviews, but if we don’t want customers to lose all faith, there needs to be a way to see what’s real and what isn’t. ‘How useful was this comment to you’ ratings just ask people we don’t know to tell us what they think about opinions from people we also don’t know. Not good. Where does it end?
One potential answer lies in leveraging social graphs to surface reviews from friends, or friends of friends. This circumvents the issue of trust by letting you know exactly where a review came from and how much you should – or shouldn’t – trust it.
A less-explored avenue would use advanced diagnostic techniques like Cultural Consensus Analysis to validate new reviews against what has already been written – but that, too could fall prey to the fakers.
Until then, read carefully, and don’t forget to comment with your great ideas!