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Are Online Reviews Reliable? You Need to Read This Businesses are making a conscious effort to curb negative reviews, including calling out fake reviews on social media

By Gaurav Mendiratta

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In April of 2017, London based writer Oobah Butler made headlines the world over for - well, for lack of a better phrase - totally punking the top most travel review site, when he made "A Shed in Dulwich" (an actual shed in Dulwich) the top rated restaurant in London.

There is a product related to Antim Kriya called "Sarvpooja - Final rites Kit" which read like below:

Review 1 - "Wow amazing product ....just used for my friend (shubham) ....he burned very well chances of coming back .. …"

Review 2 - "What a product. My friend loved it. His uncle burned very well. He is planning to buy another one for his aunty."

A recent survey also showed that one of the world's largest online shopping sites has 60per cent or more fake reviews in product categories like Electronics, Beauty and Supplements.

So Can Online Reviews Really be Considered Reliable?

There's absolutely no denying the power of the online reviews. In fact, 57per cent of people surveyed they wouldn't choose a business that had under a 4-star rating.

With 9 out of 10 consumers saying that these little snippets of information from past buyers impact their decision to either buy or not buy, it's safe to say that buyer behaviour changes with the presence, or lack there off, of reviews on a product.

Of course, with the inclusion of public opinion brings its own share of unpredictability. Is the review true to a user's experience? Is it subjective? Is it paid for?

For brands, it all comes down to perception. You can embrace the challenges and the benefits that come with reviews, or choose to cower. I'd advocate for the former.

The Extent and Impact of Reviews

Consumers tend to believe a customer review 12 times more than what the brand has to say about the product. But this is quickly being extended to experiences, services, people, and jobs too.

From the "Superhost" filter on Airbnb to restaurant reviews on TripAdvisor and workplace reviews on Glassdoor, everyone is looking for that "5-star" experience. Transport giants Uber and Ola even let you rate people!

With reviews being used on search engines too, more and more brands are starting to interweave a marketing strategy that'll get the most out of a review.

The Strategy Behind the Review

More and more brands are starting to include soft incentives (like discounts on the next purchase) for those who review their products. And it's not just all about quantity either.

Businesses are making a conscious effort to curb negative reviews, including calling out fake reviews on social media.

Poor reviews on fairly new restaurants on Zomato are almost always followed up by a call from management, asking you how they can make your next visit better.

But knowing where to draw the line in dishing out freebies and discounts, all in the name of garnering positive reviews, makes all the difference when thinking about the ethics of it all.

When does a freebie border a bribe?

The Dark Side of the Review Economy

Given that consumer-generated reviews can result in an 18per cent increase in sales, there's bound to be the odd apple in the business world that's going to try something shady to achieve that number.

In my earlier example of "A Shed in Dulwich" the Fake London restaurant, Butler admitted that prior to taking on the bizarre challenge, he had a job writing fake reviews on a popular website. A restaurant would pay him £10 to say something positive about them, even though he had never eaten there before.

It's unfortunate because it clearly hurts the digital space, but fake reviews are still readily available on freelancing sites like Fiverr.

You can buy any number of reviews for anywhere between Rs 10 to $500, depending on the type of service or product that's to be reviewed.

Knowing the Difference: What's Real and What's Not

Today there are a few apps available in the app store which can help you weed out fake reviews on popular sites. But they do not cover all sites so here are a few telltale signs that you should keep an eye out for:

1. Check the Feedback and not Just the Star Rating

While the star ratings don't really give you much to go on, the feedback or comments tell you exactly what the reviewer liked/didn't like about the item in question. Sometimes, the reason behind the review may not even add value to your decision.

E.g.- a 1-star rating complaining about the length of a pair of trousers, posted by someone who's 6'4'' while you happen to be 5'10''.

2. Check if the User is a Verified/Validated Buyer

One of the easiest ways to check if the review is real or fake is to look for a "Verified Buyer" tag. While this is specific to Amazon, other e-commerce giants have similar functions in place to help their customers choose better.

3. Consider the Quality of the Review

Reviews in the range of one to five words long should hold very little if not no merit at all. If someone takes the time to spell out exactly why they either love or hate the product, then you have a higher chance of them being honest, than someone who said a pair of jeans was "Terrible" with no mention of whether it was the colour, wash, or fit that was "Terrible".

4. Check the Reviewer's Profile

Most sites give you access to view the profile of the person leaving the review. Not to sound too much like a detective, but running a small background check to survey the products the person has previously reviewed should give you a fair idea of whether or not the review is legit.

5. Keep an Eye Out for Extremist Behavior

If the reviewer has a tendency of rating only in either one or five stars, you might not get a clear representation of the product even if the reviewer is genuine. In this case, it would be best to remove the review from the consideration process altogether and base your decision on other reviews and your own judgment.

Gaurav Mendiratta

Founder & CEO of SocioSquares


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