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Government to clamp down on fake online reviews

One of the most popular ways for potential customers to evaluate whether a product or service lives up to the marketing hype is to read user feedback, however, a newly-launched investigation shows that the internet has been flooded with rogue reviews.

Reviews are a fantastic marketing tool for online retailers. The authenticity of an independent opinion packs far more punch than the official bumf. If a manufacturer promises one thing but those who’ve used it experienced the opposite, who are you going to believe?

Unfortunately, the power of reviews is so significant that companies have been gaming the system, even going so far as to give themselves glowing appraisals and to swamp competitors with one-star ratings.

For seasoned internet users, this has been obvious for some time. Barely legible English, and odd-looking accounts that don’t seem to have any activity beyond praising/hating a particular company are just a few of the giveaways.

That said, there are many, many people out there who will still take reviews and star-ratings at face value. And it has now become such a problem that the government’s Competition and Markets Authority has begun an investigation.

There is, however, the issue of what counts as a fake review. We can all agree that a customer so enthused by their new purchase that they are driven to log on and leave a red-hot report is the legitimate, intended use. Similarly, we’d all agree that a company who themselves, or through a third party, plagues competitor sites with angry, low-scoring reviews of products they’ve never even used is bad practice and needs to be stopped.

But then there are the grey areas in between. For example, a seller could (and many do) offer money-off vouchers to any customer posting positive reviews of previous purchases. From one point of view, this is fair game, because it’s the user’s choice to post a review in their own words. From another point of view, the prospect of a voucher could surely influence the reviewer to write something more positive than they would have.

It’ll be interesting to see what this new investigation finds, how it rules on what’s fair and unfair, and how it chooses to punish breaches. Whatever the decision, it’s clear that reviews are an important tool for online retailers, but being open and honest is the way to do it.

What you can do

Go get good reviews

Good reviews help set your products apart from the competition, and they’re valuable to have. And just as importantly as a high score is the volume of ratings. One or two good reviews could be a fluke, but hundreds or thousands are enough of a sample size to assess the public’s response. Don’t be afraid to email customers after a sale and ask for their thoughts. Consider using a site like Trustpilot, which independently collects and analyses reviews to give them added authenticity.

Keep your cool

Bad reviews will happen, even if you don’t have a malicious competitor that’s out to damage your reputation. It’s inevitable, especially as your company grows and you serve more and more people. You can’t please everybody every time, some people just won’t like what you do. And then there’s the extra picky shoppers, the overly sensitive customer, those who threaten to leave a bad review if you don’t bend to their whims, and then there’s the nutjobs. Whatever you do, be kind to all customers. Don’t leave angry or negative comments in return, or start talking conspiracy theories about how they’re trying to bring you down.

Learn from your reviews

The best response to a bad review is to learn from it. If you did something wrong, or even not as well as you could have, then take a look at your operation and think about where you can improve. A bad review will expose weaknesses you weren’t aware of. Even if you think the review is unfair, be polite in your interactions. Most of the time this will diffuse a situation, some of the time it’ll encourage someone to try again, and, most importantly, you’ll come across as the good guy to anybody else who sees the interaction. By engaging with a positive mindset, you can turn a bad review into an opportunity.

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