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Fake reviews have taken center stage in retail news over the past year. From companies using employees or hiring fake review writers to more industrial fake review bot farms, it’s an issue that is increasingly top-of-mind for consumers and our clients alike. While almost all (95%) shoppers use ratings and reviews to evaluate or learn more about products, fake reviews are affecting their ability to confidently turn to reviews as a trusted source.  

To better understand how fake reviews affect consumer behavior, we surveyed 10,000 shoppers in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, and Australia. Here’s what we learned:  

Consumers are scrutinizing reviews

Thanks to increased media coverage, shoppers are aware and evaluating reviews for authenticity. The number one factor that makes consumers suspicious that a product has fake reviews is seeing multiple reviews with similar wording (55%). That is followed by review content not matching the product (49%), bad grammar/misspellings (36%), and an overwhelming amount of five star/positive reviews (35%). As consumers have become more shrewd and skeptical of marketing and advertising practices as a whole, they are constantly evaluating product reviews to look for red flags.  

Consumer trust is affected by fake reviews, which impacts their choice to buy

Survey respondents said that fraudulent reviews from a brand’s employees (42%) and from other customers (34%) would cause them to lose trust in a brand. We also found that after losing trust in a brand, a vast majority (82%) of consumers would avoid using the brand ever again. If shoppers suspect a product to have fake reviews, 36% would not buy the product, 28% would not trust the brand, 27% would not trust the site’s other reviews, and 25% would not purchase from the website — and 18% said all of the above. 

Even on discount days, such as Black Friday, almost a third (31%) of consumers say that brand trust shapes the decisions that they make. If they don’t already trust a brand, over a quarter (27%) of respondents said the brand would need to offer at least a 50% discount on its products in order to entice them to purchase. Having fake reviews has major consequences on consumer trust and could ultimately impact your business’ bottom line.  

Consumers think fake reviews should be regulated

Not only will consumers punish brands who have fake reviews with lack of patronage, they also want them to be punished more formally by the government. Almost three quarters of global consumers think the retail industry needs a new set of standards to combat fake reviews. They believe that these standards should dictate that only customers who made verified purchases are able to post reviews (43%), that all products should be tried and tested by legitimate consumers before launch (38%), and there must be a daily review of customer content to weed out fake reviews.  

When asked what would be an appropriate level of punishment for brands in breach of these standards, respondents suggested a fine of almost 16% of the brand’s revenue. When given this question, all respondents were also notified that in data privacy, the penalty for breaking the terms of GDPR can be up to 4% of revenue — evidently, consumers feel that this violation of trust warrants more significant consequences for brands.  

The takeaways for brands: Embrace authenticity and transparency in your reviews

All of the above proves the massive risk that fake reviews present for your business. Consumers, while they continue to trust reviews, are on the lookout for any signs of untrustworthy content. Consumers have a right to trust the reviews they encounter, and, moreover, businesses have a responsibility to ensure this content is legitimate. We believe that authenticity and trust in ratings and reviews is foundational to their value for shoppers, brands, and retailers.  

We have three golden rules when it comes to how companies should protect consumer trust in reviews:  

  • Do not allow fake content. 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. This is a big part of how we serve our clients. Using both textual moderation and data driven anti-fraud processes to evaluate reviews in the Bazaarvoice Network helps us to protect our clients and their shoppers.  
  • Do not screen out negative content — find value in it. 60% of our survey respondents said that negative reviews are as important as positive reviews in their decision to buy a product. The majority claimed that negative reviews contain more detailed info on product pros and cons, while 32% think that they are less likely to be fraudulent. In addition to giving consumers a true feel for a product or service, negative reviews are an opportunity for engaging with consumers and identifying potential product improvements. We have endless stories from clients that have used the feedback from their customers ratings and reviews to help inform all parts of their businesses. Brands who respond to and take action on negative feedback will build trust and loyalty with their customers.  
  • Be transparent about how you collect reviews. There are a variety of ways that a business can ask customers to provide a review, including verbally at time of purchase, through post-interaction emails, or in a social media campaign. Regardless of how a review is collected, brands should never ask for or incentivize positive reviews; consumers should always feel empowered to provide their honest feedback. If consumers are offered a free product, promotional material (such as discounts or coupons), or a chance to win something of value in exchange for providing an unbiased review, then the review should explicitly indicate this. We recommend adding descriptors to like, ”This reviewer received free product in exchange for their honest feedback,” to any reviews that were collected using a promotion. 

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Simply put, a reputation for fake reviews can damage your brand. As consumer trust of media, business, and marketing continue to decline, brands and retailers need to continuously work to combat fake reviews to ensure that shoppers can turn to ratings and reviews as sources of truth. At Bazaarvoice, we continue to be committed to the protection of authentic content on behalf of our clients.  

To learn more about this research, check out our infographic

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