Regulator closes in on brands who post fake online reviews

Brands should think twice about basing their marketing campaigns on review scores, according to Ignitye, with its latest research conducted on behalf of the Competition and Markets Authority suggesting that over half of online reviews are suspect.

The research found that 54% of UK adults regularly access online reviews with 80% of consumers then using them to inform a purchase decision.

However Ignitye claims that 51% of UK companies have been hit by unfounded criticism or targeted by trolls through fake reviews on websites such as Amazon, Expedia and Tripadvisor.

One in five UK businesses are now spending up to £30,000 a year putting things right as a result of online reviews.

It isn’t just consumers posting suspect reviews either. Ignitye’s Caroline Skipsey told Marketing Week that “more and more brands are posting fake reviews” – both positive and negative – aware that £23bn a year of consumer spending is potentially influenced by online reviews.

She said: “We work with a big double glazing company and their competitors generate 300 or so 5 star reviews a month. The natural rate is 20 to 30 so that’s suspicious.

“We’re also seeing more and more multinational brands offering rewards to consumers who post positive reviews or fill out customer surveys.”

Skipsey says the CMA is working with review websites to ensure that IP addresses of reviewers are regularly tracked – something Tripadvisor already does – and has introduced alterations Under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs).

These include advising businesses not to create the false impression that content has been written by a consumer, to provide clear information on the identity of reviewers and to be much clearer about how reviews are obtained and checked.

It is also actively investigating several companies after finding evidence of firms who are commissioning fake negative reviews to undermine rivals, for malicious reasons, or for personal gain, as well as businesses writing fake reviews of themselves to boost their ratings on review sites compared with rivals.

“If you rig your reviews it will be short lived as the government is on to you,” Skipsey added.

“Brands have to take poor reviews with a pinch of salt as they’re often more testament to a cultural issue among Brits who like to blow off steam by writing something overly negative.

Similarly consumers have to also be careful about trusting what they hear about brands who talk up their positive reviews in marketing as many are skewing the data.”

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