Who among us does not read consumer reviews before buying an online product? Or eating out at a new restaurant? Or choosing a service provider?
These seem to me to be a valuable dimension of the online marketplace, and they have become very important to the businesses getting reviewed. I appreciate it when companies post an answer to a negative review, pledging to address the problems that were noted. For the marketplace to be responsive to consumers, it needs information, and now that information–from feedback to businesses to warnings and testimonials to fellow consumers–is now instantly available.
And yet it invites fraud. I read one estimate that 10% of reviews are faked. Businesses can review themselves, or cajole or even pay other people to give them a 5-star review. Review sites such as Yelp and Trip Advisor try to police that as best they can.
Now Amazon, which posts reviews not only for books but for practically everything it sells, is suing up to 1,000 writers who are part of a scheme to post positive reviews for $5 apiece.
Internet users increasingly rely on online customer reviews when making spending decisions, whether they’re buying an iPhone case on Amazon or hiring an Uber ride in their hometown. But just how much can you trust those reviews?
A new lawsuit in which Amazon accuses more than 1,000 people of offering to post bogus glowing write-ups for as little as $5 apiece might give you pause.
The case, filed in Washington state court Friday by the nation’s biggest online retailer, casts light on what appears to be a burgeoning practice: the commissioning of paid, fake reviews that masquerade as testimonials from ordinary people.
Fake reviews are nothing new to online retailing, and Amazon is far from the only big company affected. Yelp’s restaurant reviews and TripAdvisor’s hotel ratings have long been a target of critics who claim that merchants can easily post positive reviews of their own businesses.
Amazon’s legal counteroffensive, however, appears to be one of the most aggressive attempts yet by a major U.S. e-commerce company to fight back.
Its lawsuit alleges that individuals would write five-star reviews about products they never even tried, and plotted with product makers to subvert Amazon safeguards that are meant to bolster confidence in the website’s reviews.
Here is a story on how to spot a fake review online.
What is your experience with reviews? (I’d like to hear from business owners as well as customers.) Are they generally reliable?
Negative reviews are probably less likely to be faked, but they too have to be taken with a grain of salt. Some are based on ignorance (such as reviews of Texas-style BBQ joints that complain because the meat is sold by the pound without sauce), or irrational complaints (such as giving one star because the staff wouldn’t give separate checks to a party of 20), or idiosyncratic personal reasons (as in, the food was good but the person who seated us talked with us in an unfriendly tone of voice). Mostly, though, I have found negative reviews to state something true about the establishment (such as slow service), which I may weigh differently than they did. (I’m willing to wait if the meat is smoky enough, something else that some reviewers complain about but that I like.)