Fake product reviews widespread
Study of online reviews finds many more 'counterfeit' than originally believed. And not from paid reviewers, either.
Even though many sites that feature consumer reviews have tried to control fake comments -- which are sometimes paid for by businesses with an interest in shifting public opinion -- a new threat is on the horizon, according to a recently released study.
Real customers of companies are writing numerous negative reviews about products they haven't bought, according to research by Duncan Simester, a professor at MIT's Sloan School of Management, and Eric Anderson, marketing professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.
"We know of situations where online reviews are manipulated in a strategic way," Simester said. "But rather than being posted by a handful of rogue reviewers, our research revealed very critical comments by real people, most of whom have been very loyal customers."
The unusual aspect of the discovery is that there is no apparent financial incentive for the reviews as is the case when someone is engaged to disparage a competitor or prop up a particular product or business.
"These findings suggest that the phenomenon of deceptive reviews may be far more prevalent that we would otherwise think," Simester said.
The study looked at comments posted to the web site of a clothing company that has "hundreds of thousands of product reviews." An analysis of the reviews showed approximately 5% of the reviews were by consumers who did not seem to have purchased the items. And those reviews, the study found, were far more negative than the rest of the reviews. The professors said they also looked at book reviews on Amazon.com and found a similar pattern.
Simester said that even though a small percentage of people generate the reviews -- less than 2% of customers -- the reviews appear to have some impact on what people purchase.
It isn't clear why these people are writing so many negative reviews, although Simester suggested a couple of possibilities. These consumers "may be acting as self-appointed brand managers" and make the comments as a means of trying to guide the company. Or they may be trying to build "their perceived social status through demonstration of their expertise.”
When reading reviews of products online, it's important to apply some filters before making a decision based on them. While some phony reviews stand out, some appear legitimate at first glance.
Here are some tips to consider when reading reviews:
- Be skeptical of those with overly glowing language or marketing terms as well as those that seem to go to an extreme in a negative direction. You'll get a better sense of reality from those that focus on the actual experience or use of a product.
- If a review really catches your attention, click on the reviewer's name to see other comments posted by the same person. It can give you a sense whether the commenter is a serial complainer or perhaps only writes positive reviews for a certain brand.
- Be leery of reviews that try to explain away problems cited in other reviews.
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