My experience of the 3 hidden problems with review sites
Review sites are failing to do the one thing you use them for – provide an honest and reliable review – because they’re too easy to abuse and mislead.
There’s been a lot of media attention in the past couple of months about review sites and some of the issues that businesses and their customers face. There is no doubt that people use review sites for products and services – regular usage has rightly become almost second nature for all of us. When you search for a business in search engines, you usually get the business website followed by a number of review sites – and so it’s not a surprise that the CMA found over 54% of UK adults used online reviews. In fact, these online review sites influence as much as £23bn a year of consumer spending.
And this is part of the problem. They offer such big ubiquitous business, that they are prone to abuse, which sadly compromises their trustworthiness.
When I first came on to the Recommendable team, I wanted to see how bad the problem really is. I created a quick account on a freelance platform, and posted up a job titled ‘Write Fake Reviews’. I simply set up a low budget and blank job description post – all the information was in just the title. Considering how unappealing I made the posting, what happened next was shocking.
Within minutes I was receiving bids for the role. It took the platform (to their credit) just 40 minutes to remove the job post, but I was still able to contact those who had offered their services as my account remained open. This was fortunate for me, as I had received dozens of proposals from individuals wanting to write the fake reviews for me. For there to be such a market for people to be seemingly constantly monitoring fake review opportunities suggests that this problem is rife. To establish the total scale of the problem is all but impossible, but we can see here a clear symptom of businesses increasingly paying ‘freelancers’ to create fake reviews.
So why should users be wary of review sites?
Issue 1: Astroturfing
This is the creation of fake reviews by the businesses themselves to have them appear better rated then they may naturally be. The temptation is there – it’s just a short amount of time to create a few dozen positive reviews that look great on your website or social media. Many review sites don’t check the validity of the reviewer, which means your potential plumber, his brother, his mate, his business partner could all write rave – and not impartial or even truthful – reviews.
In some cases, as I showed above, fake reviewing goes to a whole other scale. Companies have been found by the BBC to pay students to write positive reviews en masse for them, often using the names and personas of people who have passed away.
Companies have been doing this for a number of years – they will often call up customers who have left bad reviews and offer them cash incentives for taking down their review.
Issue 2: Undermining rivals
Just as it is easy to write a good review about your own business, it is also easy to write unfairly negative reviews about your competitors. Some companies even commission fake negative reviews about their competitors for malicious reasons. In my case, I didn’t specify whether I wanted the fake reviews to be positive or negative – it seems reasonable to assume those freelancers who were interested wouldn’t have minded writing reviews about my ‘exemplary’ business, or damning my competitors!
Issue 3: The business model
Many of these review sites work by a subscription model, where the businesses pay to have preferential or featured listings. You’ll see it all over the internet in ‘Sponsored’ or ‘Featured’ advertisements and listings. This means it’s in the review sites’ interests to keep these businesses happy by allowing them to delete negative reviews, or cherry-pick good reviews to appear at the top of your results.
All three of these issues completely compromise the impartiality of these review websites, making them useless and quite possibly dangerous for consumers to trust.
Fortunately, studies show that people still trust their friends and family more than ever; their recommendations form an integral guidance for all of our business usages. Recommendable promotes this behaviour.
At Recommendable, the system works by connecting your Recommendable profile with your friends and friends of friends on Facebook, so you can see which of your friends have recommended a business or service. No business can fake this! Recommendable only displays real recommendations – real endorsements from the people you trust and that’s why Recommendable works.