The number of American consumers who make purchases online continues to grow. Last year a survey reported that a third of American adults did so at least once a week. A 2016 Pew Research Center study found that 82 percent of us either sometimes or always read online reviews before purchasing. Here’s the problem: Those online reviews are not often trustworthy.
Recent actions by the Federal Trade Commission have brought several unethical practices to light in the field of online reviews. Among those deceptive practices: reviews posted by family members, friends and company employees without those connections being made public, reviews paid for in order to boost a product’s ratings and offers to send prizes to people who post positive reviews.
It all boils down to this advice from your Better Business Bureau: Take those online reviews with a grain of salt.
Signs of suspicious reviews
As businesses have begun to spring up specifically for the purpose of writing reviews for companies wanting to increase their ratings, consumers are left wondering which ones they should trust. Here are some tips from BBB:
• Check that the reviewer made a verified purchase. Amazon and other companies are now labelling the ones that are. This helps ensure that that fake reviewers have a harder time getting published.
• Watch out for reviews from those with new accounts. Look at the user profile and beware if it is new and nearly empty. That’s an indication that they could be freelancers hired to create possibly hundreds of new accounts just for the purpose of leaving fake reviews.
• Beware of reviews that sound scripted. One can often tell from the wording that the review is phony, especially if it’s over-the-top glowing about the product.
• Don’t think you can trust negative reviews. These too can be fake, planted by a competitor to give a product a bad rating. The New York Times has reported that many people rely on negative reviews more than positive ones. It seems to be human nature to want to give them more credence. But they are no more trustworthy than positive reviews. A study showed that there was little correlation between the objective quality of reviews and the rating that the product was assessed by Consumer Reports, an objective source for testing merchandise.
Making good use of reviews
These steps can increase the usefulness of online product reviews for you as you consider whether to buy items:
• Weed out the extreme pro and con reviews. It’s natural for consumers to want to write a review when they have a strong emotion about a product. Cooler, more objective reviews are more helpful.
• Consider reading the mid-range, three-star reviews first.
• When reading a review, ask yourself how much the writer reflects your own considerations for a product. Are they looking at the same issues that are important to you?
• Remember that the number of stars the reviewer gives the product is not always consistent with the details of their review. People’s ratings standards can vary, as can their writing ability.
• Thorough reviews can be more helpful than quickly written short reviews. Take the time to read some of those longer ones.
Finally, don’t just rely on online reviews. Do your own research on the company. Part of that process should be a check of the company at bbb.org for an examination of their business profile.
For answers to other questions regarding online reviews, contact your BBB at (800) 856-2417, or visit our website at bbb.org.
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