False Impressions: Online Customer Reviews Exposed (cont.)

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RANGE OF RAVES. The threat of fake customer reviews exists in all product and service categories, including restaurants, consumer goods, clothing and travel destinations.

RANGE OF RAVES. The threat of fake customer reviews exists in all product and service categories, including restaurants, consumer goods, clothing and travel destinations.

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Lui conducts experiments with students to see whether they can determine a fake customer review from a genuine customer review, and the results are deflating. He says fake reviews and real reviews blend together easily, because even each real review is written in a different style and voice. Identifying fake reviews is “not easy for consumers to figure out,” Lui says. For instance, if a person who has written authentic reviews for a long time suddenly decides to get paid to write fake reviews on behalf of a marketing company, websites won’t have any idea that the reviewer who was deemed as reliable no longer is.

“I do not think it is possible to detect every possible fake review, because if a fake reviewer is really careful, it is possible to avoid being detected,” Lui says.

Meanwhile, actions that consumers can take on their own to identify fake reviews still won’t guarantee that you’ll discover a phony review. Among the most commonly cited steps consumers can take include looking for multiple reviews for a product or service that are posted within a small time frame, such as within an hour. Such evidence suggests that one person posted multiple reviews on the website via different accounts.

Another red flag is if a review includes the full model name of a product several times. The use of the full model name suggests that the person who posted the review wants to attract people who search the Internet for a particular product, so the review will rank high on the search-engine result, Lui says. Consequently, we believe that you’ll be more likely to see the positive review and be swayed to purchase the product.

As more consumers realize that fake customer reviews exist, more consumers will begin to distrust all such reviews, Sussin predicts. We understand that it’s human nature for consumers to want to share opinions and experiences, so it’s only natural for someone to believe that online customer reviews represent an accurate survey of people who purchased a product or service. However, too much evidence suggests that you can’t trust what you see. In other words, if you rely on online customer reviews to, say, book a hotel for a weekend in Las Vegas, you’re making a big roll of the dice that it will pay off.

Freelance writer Darci Swisher has written about consumer-oriented topics for Crain’s Chicago Business and Interest.com.

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