The CMA (The UK Competition and Marketing Authority) has begun an investigation into fake and misleading reviews in an attempt to make sure customers are being protected when they are shopping online.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant increase in the amount of customers turning to online shopping and many of those consumers are heavily influenced by the reviews they see online.
How do Fake Reviews Influence Consumers Online?
Online reviews are increasing in significance across all ranges of business, but they are particularly vital for ecommerce business and those offering online services. A recent study found that 93% of consumers say their purchasing decisions are directly impacted by online reviews.
The CMA also discovered last year that online reviews influence £23bn of UK spending each year!
As a result of this, fake reviews can also have a very considerable and negative influence. 54% of consumers said they would be put off from buying a product if they suspected the reviews for the product were fake.
This then creates the question of how fake reviews can be identified and handled, which is part of the investigation being completed by the CMA. Consumers are only recently being exposed to the problem with fake reviews, which has led many to feel they were being deceived by some retailers. 95% of consumers in a study even went as far as to say they suspected fake reviews or censorship if a company had no negative reviews at all.
There are many different types of fake reviews, such as those left by business owners or their family/friends. However, the issue with fake reviews is not exclusive to positive reviews used to benefit a business. In the past, fake negative reviews have also been left by ex-employees or customers who may be lying or exaggerating their story to get a refund or other benefit. Another issue is review gating, which involves only allowing certain customers to leave a review based on whether they will leave positive or negative feedback – you can read more about review gating here.
The Investigation into Fake Reviews
The investigation being completed by The CMA is aiming at protecting consumers who have turned to online shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown. It will focus on:
- Suspicious reviews – this will look at individuals leaving reviews for an unlikely range of products.
- Businesses manipulating reviews – this will look at businesses who are potentially assigning reviews to products incorrectly
- Paid-for reviews – this will look at reviewers being incentivised for leaving good comments
These elements are all extremely important, and they have all been seen in the past by consumers and organisations who operate online. The consumer group Which? once found 55,000 posts online offering products in exchange for good reviews. This also brings into question platforms such as Amazon Vine, which provides users with products free of charge in exchange for honest feedback.
It is important to note that Google guidelines state that you should not incentivise the collection of Google reviews – their exact words are ‘Don’t offer or accept money in exchange for reviews’. Whilst this only mentions monetary incentives Google has taken action against businesses who have incentivised reviews with gifts or giveaways.
Although they have declined to name the specific sites being investigated, previous reports have suggested the buying and selling of reviews was found on both Facebook and eBay. There is also potential that multiple large retailers will be involved in the investigation.