The Consumer Review Race

People religiously rely on online reviews before making purchasing decisions.  Reviews from fellow customers who we believe are sharing an honest and unbiased opinion are deemed a valuable resource.  They can make or break purchasing decisions.  At the end of the day we want to know whether the product or service is worth our time and money.  We increasingly rely on social networks to make decisions.

Ten years ago we would have been making these decisions alone, for the most part.  One or two friends may suggest a restaurant, but we wouldn’t have the time to contact ten friends to get their opinion on a restaurant.  Now, we pull out our phones to search reviews online before we even show up at the establishment.

Online restaurant reviews, apps, and deals have become a powerful driver of consumer behavior.  With the anonymity of the Internet we do not know if a five-start review was posted by someone employed by the company, an outside review generating company or our next-door neighbor.

There are plenty of websites seeking to pay users to write positive and/or malicious reviews.  TripAdvisor and Yelp are two well-known culprits that support false reviews.  To the average review reader it is not that easy to spot a fake review from a real one.  The method is simple, companies can write their own reviews or engage third parties.  If we can’t tell the difference between an honestly written review and a shady paid company, what is the value in consumer reviews?

This has become such a hot button issue that researchers at Cornell created an algorithm to detect fake reviews.  They were immediately approached by a number of companies, including Amazon, Hilton, TripAdvisor, to name a few.  These companies were interested in containing the spread of fake reviews, even though some of these sites are known for paying users to produce bogus reviews.  Ironic?  Is this a PR tactic or are their moral and ethical standards kicking in?

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One thought on “The Consumer Review Race”

  1. Take me for example. As a foreigner has completely no idea about the restaurant here, I heavily rely on customer reviews on either Yelp or other blog posts. After several times of trying, I found those reviews not entirely trust-worthy. The reviews are quite different from the actual experience I got. However, I still have no other sources to rely on expect those I known might probably be faked/paid. Or is there any complete honest website whose reviews are totally unbiased? I think the answer might be no. As time passes and reputation of the website being built, these review website would immediately become the target which big companies would love to buy in, especially when this society put lots of emphases on reputation. People are somehow educated to be alert to advertisement yet still vulnerable to comments or opinions made by users.

    As for the Cornell research part, I think it is still a PR tactic. Customers are not stupid, neither are those companies. We would be aware of the manipulations made by those companies and not trust reviews anymore. We might evolve another system to replace it. Companies also know that people would get suspicious about this trick, eventually. (Well, many of us have already known they are suspicious.) They still have to be trust-worthy in front of the public, so they are trying to create/send an image that they are with the customers. Giving the idea that “Hey! We’re against fake reviews too. I’m taking my action here and now.” Just to make us feel less suspicious toward them. Also, there still can be a possibility that these companies are trying to get the first-hand news or knowledge about what might replace this review system, so that they could prepare for the next game with customers.

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