It’s a measure of modern-day society’s cynicism that we tend to trust the opinions of total strangers more than the companies who manufacture and market products and services.
The internet has spawned innumerable review and survey websites, including Rated People, TripAdvisor and Trustpilot.
Ecommerce brands have also introduced customer reviews for the products they sell, with Amazon perhaps the best-known example of this phenomenon.
And Amazon has been in the news recently, after a lengthy investigation by consumer body Which? discovered numerous bogus reviews on its site.
In an era of fake news and post-truth, can we still trust ecommerce product reviews? And what should we look out for while browsing customer comments?
Fake it ’til you make it
The Which? survey wasn’t the first to uncover evidence of fake ecommerce product reviews, but the scale of its findings was still shocking.
Numerous items advertised as ‘Amazon’s Choice’ were subsequently rated by Which as Don’t Buys following laboratory testing.
These products were all electrical in nature, ranging from hoovers to headphones.
Each one was manufactured by relatively unfamiliar brands, and marketed by Chinese sellers who were mostly based in the city of Shenzhen.
Perhaps most worrying was the scale of this fraud. A dash cam with over 500 five-star reviews was subsequently panned by Which? for its picture quality and ease of mounting.
The truth, the whole truth and nothing like the truth
It’s worth pointing out that the phenomenon of fake reviews tends to be driven by third-party sellers, rather than by manufacturers or the websites themselves.
And some sites are harder to game than others.
It’s very difficult to rig reviews on service platforms like Checkatrade.com, whereas cheap ecommerce products can have their average reviews inflated more easily.
It clearly isn’t possible to avoid fake product descriptions just by sticking to reputable websites, and Amazon isn’t alone in battling fraudulent reviews on a daily basis.
Indeed, it’s been estimated that 15 per cent of online reviews at any given moment are deceptive in nature.
The Latin principle of caveat emptor – buyer beware – still applies online. Like spam email, it’s often easy to spot forgeries and fakes if you pay attention.
These are some of the tell-tale signs that ecommerce product reviews might not be telling the whole truth: