How accurate are product reviews? A new study says many are woefully inaccurate

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Communicating with companies is starting to shift to social media

If you do any sort of online shopping, you’re probably like most consumers and read at least a couple of the product reviews to see if there’s anything that sets off warning bells.

Big box online stores like Amazon have ways of verifying that the reviewer actually bought the item on their platform, which helps the shopping platform maintain a certain level of integrity. However, brick-and-mortar stores don’t always impose those rules of the road on themselves and, unfortunately, there’s the occasional review that’s completely fake.

Using Fakespot’s online analysis tools, BestSEOCompanies recently ran an analysis to see if it could spot the differences between fake and real reviews. What it found was astonishing.

More fake reviews than you may realize

Of the 2.7 million reviews analyzed, 39 percent were found to be “unreliable.”

At the top of the glacier of fakes was the electronics category, in which 42 percent of the reviews analyzed proved to be phony.

Right behind electronics at 46.2 percent was apparel. “Arguably, apparel may be the most difficult category to review online, as it’s impossible to know how clothes will work for other shoppers,” noted BestSEO’s Jason Bayless. 

“Something that worked well for one body may not necessarily work well for others. That said, a fake review – one claiming to love a pair of pants that were never actually purchased – wouldn’t help anybody, regardless of shape or size.”

Spotting the fakes

The economics are such that good reviews leverage better sales. So much, in fact, that the study found 70 percent of the consumers surveyed said they would pay more for products or services with higher ratings. And the reason electronics rank so high in the fake review column is that a) there’s more money to be made off a computer or TV than a water bottle or pair of house shoes; and b) customers tend to pay closer attention to reviews on higher-ticket items.

One of the more interesting things that came out of the study is how much credence consumers give restaurant reviews.

“Restaurants have a different type of cost beyond money – time,” Bayless said. “Perhaps customers want to spare themselves from a poor dining experience if possible. Moreover, restaurant reviews may help patrons know what to order or even learn the best times to visit. All of this is possible when reading a few customer reviews.”

The go-to place for reviews is starting to shift

With social media playing such a big role in the daily lives of consumers, communication between consumer and retailer is starting to increase on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

“Customer service through social media is a new and interesting phenomenon that can provide enormous opportunities and risks for businesses,” Bayless said. “For example, failing to respond to a customer service request online can result in a digital review or complaint, yet resolving an issue online can often help a customer in the most convenient way possible.”

If you, as a consumer, decide to take the social media route to air out your concerns, as the old saying goes, you’ll catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar.

Bonnie Shaw, president of public relations firm the ClearPoint agency, offers these tips:

  • “Use the sandwich technique when you state your complaint” is Shaw’s #1 modus operandi. “Say something positive about the brand in general or thank them for responding to you quickly, concisely state your experience or complaint, provide a possible solution, and then tell them you appreciate the opportunity to outline your complaint.”

  • “Give the company the benefit of the doubt.” Shaw says that companies, by and large, want to make customers happy and do the right thing to make that happen. “Give them a chance to make things right,” she says. “If they can’t refund all your money or provide a full replacement, ask if there are any other discounts or ways they might be able to help. Again, they want to make customers happy, but they have limits, too.”

  • If you’re not getting anywhere with the person you’re communicating with, ask for a manager. Representatives don’t cotton to having to get a manager since it might have a negative impact on how they’re perceived to be doing their job. While it’s an approach that might have some success, Shaw says there’s no guarantee. 

  • “Be reasonable,” Shaw suggests. “If you owned your product for many years and it’s been out of warranty for a time, you most likely will not get your money back, no matter how much you complain...what a lot of companies might do with a reasonable customer is offer some parts to fix the problem, provide a discount on a future purchase, send a free sample, or provide a credit or free service for next time.”

  • Shout it from the mountains if you get the results you were looking for. Posting a good “thank you” can go a long way. “If a brand has treated you right after a negative comment or complaint, do thank them via social media,” offered Shaw. “We get all kinds of positive comments after we address a complaint – ‘Customer service is not dead.’ ‘I love X brand – they are there to help when I need it.’ ‘Spoke with so and so and they were terrific. Thank you!’ Comments like these reinforce the brand’s decision to resolve customer complaints and address comments publicly via social media.”

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