A couple of weeks ago, Amazon sued over 1,000 people for posting fake reviews on its site. The defendants in question had offered their services on fiverr.com.
But is Amazon addressing the symptoms, not the cause?
Let’s go back to the future for a second. In 2012, Gartner said that by 2014, 10-15% of social media reviews would be fakes, paid for by companies. According to the BBC program Rip Off Britain this year, it’s been estimated that as many as one in five reviews online might be fake.
It’s a big problem with even bigger ramifications for those playing by the rules.
62% of people would rely on user-generated content over information provided by the company to inform a purchase decision, according to FlyResearch stats from 2015. Does it have to be the case that the more people rely on reviews, the higher percentage are fake? Surely not.
The Amazons of the world shouldn’t need to take action. There are rules about misleading advertising in just about any country. Two years ago New York State prosecutors caught 19 so-called reputation management companies. In the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has released, with a stern warning, a report on the review industry for which I on behalf of Reevoo provided verbal and written input.
My key message to the CMA was that all systems should employ the “verified only” approach: only those reviews that can be tied back to a transaction should be shown – or at the very least, verified and unverified reviews should be clearly labelled as such.
For the 10 years Reevoo has been in business, we’ve only ever had a verified approach – But we’re not a lone voice. Several other companies do “verified only” as well. eBay, Airbnb, Uber, and review platforms for small businesses Feefo and eKomi to name a few.
In the travel space, dominated by regular court visitor TripAdvisor, companies like Expedia and Booking.com are good examples.
Booking.com only shows reviews from people who have booked through them.
Expedia.co.uk shows first a rating of their own verified customers, and then a TripAdvisor rating.
In groceries, Ocado is a good example.
Who would leave fake reviews of a cucumber? The answer is simple: why would suppliers of cucumbers behave any different from restaurant diners, Samsung or foolish Fiverr users? For each of these it holds true that a) a lot of money is at stake; b) consumer behaviour shows they need reviews.
I certainly did not argue to the CMA that verification alone is sufficient. Fraud detection tech is needed as well. For low priced items, it still pays off for a bad guy to orchestrate an army of fake consumers “buying” the product.
We’ve had fraud detection in place for years, but I won’t disclose what it does, and neither would Ocado, Booking.com or Expedia – we’re in an arms race with the bad guys. Amazon did disclose a little bit of their fraud detection tech over the summer. As we have said before, tech is not enough.
Letting consumer trust in their peers’ opinions dwindle is such a big waste. We owe it to them. We owe it to ourselves. We are all consumers.