Whether you’re shopping on-line or in a box-store, using reviews and testimonials to make buying decisions is extremely helpful — that is, until they’re false, phony, or unreliable. This particular rant comes to you from the recent news that Amazon is suing 1,114 Fiverr users for offering to write fake product reviews. Sadly, it’s Amazon’s second lawsuit of 2015 related to fake product reviews. Posting phony reviews goes against Amazon’s terms of service — and it should — but more specifically, these reviews are a problem because they “can significantly undermine the trust that consumers and the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers place in Amazon, which in turn tarnishes Amazon’s brand.” And, it’s not just Amazon’s reputation at stake — it’s also the thousands of retailers who sell their products on Amazon. Thankfully Amazon isn’t the only company, group, or agency trying to stop fake-review schemes (whether positive or negative in nature), as one fairly recent campaign includes the New York attorney general’s attempt to stop false advertising and fake-review operations in what was dubbed the “most comprehensive crackdown to date on deceptive reviews on the Internet.”
While it’s safe to say that negative, phony reviews and testimonials have the ability to tarnish a business’ reputation, all fake reviews — whether positive or negative — have the ability to affect many other areas of business, including consumer choices, online shopping, production of goods, quality of service, and consumerism as a whole. Before diving solely into the chain-reaction of what phony reviews cause, let’s instead focus on and highlight what honest, true reviews achieve.
What Honest Reviews Achieve
Trust, or the feeling of trustworthiness, is often the first indicator of a reliable business or product. While it’s not always 100% accurate, it’s nonetheless a compass to help guide consumers toward a distinguishable and confident purchase. Therefore, it’s important to understand that building trust is often placed in consumer reviews. The importance of brand trust, in relation to honest reviews, is simple and straightforward: companies rely on honest reviews and word-of-mouth to survive, and consumers rely on these honest reviews to make buying decisions. Additionally, and especially for an online shopper who is buying items or hiring companies site-unseen, these decisions should be reliable…the first time. Whether the shopper hires a company for a service or buys a specific good, the experience and end-result should be positive, high-quality, safe, and at minimum, the product or service should meet the consumer’s expectations. In fact, any company that doesn’t meet the consumer’s criteria should have been weeded out by existing reviews and available information. That way, when the company or product arrives, the consumer is more confident — and feels safer — in their buying decision. After the service is completed or after sufficient time with the product, the consumer can either recommend or discourage future consumers from hiring the company or purchasing the product. In a consumer-driven market of honest reviews and brand trust, successful companies understand that it’s in their best interest to solidify brand trust by meeting or exceeding consumer expectations. Without it, consumers easily navigate to competitors.
2. Better Consumer Choices
A company that consistently makes or provides appropriately priced, high-quality products or services — that consumers want or need — should be successful and stay in business. While these businesses must still adapt and grow with the wants and needs of consumer demands, their growth and existence shouldn’t be hindered by fake, negative reviews. Likewise, companies knowingly using fake, positive reviews — just to get ahead of the competition — cause a great deal of false advertising and mayhem. How does this affect our economy and our choices? Because phony reviews negatively alter consumer and producer choices, and sound buying or production choices rely on consumers’ honest feedback (along with other signals, such as sales versus returns). Honest reviews help other consumers know what’s best and most reliable, but those honest reviews (and consumer demands) also help producers know what to offer, continue, discontinue, or alter. In many cases, these demands and reviews nudge inventors, producers, and creators to introduce new consumer choices that are better than their predecessors. The variety and quality of consumer choices are therefore rooted in the quality of feedback that consumers provide to producers, companies, retailers, and likewise, all of their competitors.
3. Distinguishable Choices
Choices; it’s the catch-22 of online shopping. While a plethora of choices mean better deals and more variety, it can also be overwhelming — we’ve all experienced that supremely overwhelming moment of too many options, not enough information. Think about all the products or companies that aren’t distinguishable online. How do you choose? If there’s nothing in the product or service description to help a buyer choose between one thing or another, the buyer must rely on reviews…or chance. Relying on chance is risky and can lead to a bad experience, returns, or a loss of the sale. And, while there are scenarios where the consumer gets lucky and finds a new or unknown company with great work, prices, or customer service, wouldn’t it be nice to know more about what you’ve agreed to purchase, before you click ‘submit?’
4. Company Feedback
Many successful companies adjust their brand, product(s), service(s), and customer-service skills based on the responses they receive from their patrons. However, when a patron provides false feedback, this sends an inappropriate signal to the producer of the good and can have long term consequences on products we all like. For example, let’s say a consumer (we’ll call her Lizzie) really enjoys a band that has only sold four CD’s (three which were bought by Lizzie). If Lizzie creates 5,000 fake Amazon accounts and gives all sorts of positive reviews, this sends a false message to the band. While Lizzie honestly loves the band, this tells the band that they are doing well with their current sales, marketing, and music/sound tactics. It tells them they’re on the right track…when they’re not. In reality, this influx of positive reviews (from fake users) creates a “bubble,” which only delays the band from adjusting their product to meet the true demand of the market.
5. Growth, Creativity, and Change
As honest reviews can help expand (or retract) items and choices within the market, they should also elicit growth, creativity, and change. While consumers value different things (price, craftsmanship, materials, customer service, experience, etc.), it’s important to understand that a successful economy cannot remain stagnant and complacent; it must thrive and grow with its consumers’ wants and needs. Honest reviews help guarantee that it does. For companies to continue to produce and offer their best products and services (that consumers demand), they need feedback, a willingness to adapt, a little competition, and a desire to distinguish themselves from competitors within their niche. Think of it this way: if Company A makes a stellar product (and real reviews prove this sentiment), then Company B (its competitor) must either make a similar, yet unique variation of the product or provide some other service that Company A doesn’t — just to compete. For consumers this initially creates more choices, but as time and the companies evolve to compete and survive, the result will ideally provide consumers with product advancement, efficient production, better prices, and creations we have yet to dream about. Bottom line: honest reviews can illicit, ignite, and fuel positive change.
Do Your Part; Write Honest Reviews
So why are honest reviews and testimonials essential to online shopping and consumerism? Simply put, a consumer-economy that values honest reviews will foster growth in companies that should succeed, which in turn provides consumers with the products and services they really want and need. Each consumer makes the decision on who they deem should succeed, but that decision should be based on true experiences and real reviews. Without this system, good companies won’t survive and consumers will be stuck with sub-par products and services. So, to finish this rant, please remember to write honest reviews — whether good or bad — because companies need feedback and a healthy dose of competition to drive them towards better ways of doing business.