Online shopping is a game changer, and the reviews we read play a huge role in our purchasing decisions. The more positive rating a product gets, the more likely we are to buy it over less-received alternatives.
But amidst the wealth of information that we rely upon, there lies a concerning issue: the prevalence of fake reviews. These are falsified feedback designed to mislead us into buying inferior products, ultimately eroding our trust in the online shopping experience.
What goes behind fake product reviews?
The reasons behind influencing consumers’ purchasing decisions via fake reviews are aplenty. Manufacturers, in their quest to boost profits and dominate the market, may resort to creating made-up profiles to submit fake reviews. In 2019, for example, skin care brand Sunday Riley was accused of creating false reviews of their products on the Sephora website and had to settle with the Federal Trade Commission in the US.
Fake reviews can also be used to inflate a product’s search engine ranking so they appear among the top results. Businesses may hire review farms or use automated bots to write reviews that follow a template containing not only positive feedback but also excessive use of keywords for search engine optimization purposes. Earlier in April 2023, news magazine India Today reported the rising number of fake reviews written by generative AI tools like ChatGPT.
In addition, competitors might want to tarnish the reputation of rival businesses and therefore post fake negative reviews as part of their aggressive marketing strategy. Consumers themselves sometimes engage in review bombing of products created by companies that have been involved in controversial actions or are perceived as being opposed to their political or ideological beliefs. As such, reviews from a review bombing campaign do not necessarily reflect the users’ experience with the product.
Red flags to detect fake product reviews
Indeed, unscrupulous manufacturers and content writers won’t hesitate to write fake reviews en masse for their own benefit, while customers end up being misled into purchasing substandard products. Dodging fake reviews is a skill worth mastering, and that entails the ability to differentiate between authentic feedback and deceptive ones.
Whenever you read product reviews, look out for these red flags:
- There is no indication that the product review was made from a “verified purchase,” which means the writer might have submitted the review without even using the product. Users who contribute reviews might not have undergone verification themselves.
- The product review contains an excessive number of superlatives and exaggerated claims, almost as if they’re written for a cheesy infomercial. A genuine review should be balanced and factual when evaluating the product, highlighting its actual strengths and potential drawbacks. The lack of specific details or personal experiences with the product is also suspicious.
- The product is enjoying a sudden surge of positive reviews. It’s the opposite of review bombing, in which rave reviews are submitted in a short span of time to falsely inflate the product’s rating.
Sometimes dubious products receive high praise from users even though these products aren’t even released yet.
- Check if multiple reviews follow a similar pattern that includes specific keywords and uses the same sentence and paragraph structure. This formulaic approach may be even found in reviews across multiple products.
- The user who wrote the review may be inconsistent in his use of grammar, vocabulary, and writing style, which suggests there may be multiple people writing fake reviews using a single user profile. A user profile whose sole activity in the platform is to write consistently positive reviews might be a fake account created for promotional purposes.
Tools to help you expose fake reviews
Manually spotting fake product reviews can be tedious. But instead of doing all the hard labor yourself, you can find tools online to do it for you. One of the more popular fake review detection tools is Fakespot, a free online service founded by Saoud Khalifah in 2016 and acquired by Mozilla in 2023.
Using natural language processing, Fakespot examines product and business reviews posted on supported platforms (such as Amazon, BestBuy, Steam, TripAdvisor, and Yelp) and rates them in terms of reliability. Fakespot assigns a review letter grade of A or B to indicate reliable product reviews, C for mixed reliability, and D and F for reviews without sufficient reliability. Fakespot also gives an adjusted rating for a product based on the reviews considered reliable.
To use Fakespot, you only need to visit the Fakespot Analyzer page at fakespot.com/analyzer and submit a URL of the product listing for analysis. You can also use Fakespot as a mobile app or a browser extension.
Another fake review detection tool is ReviewMeta. Similar to Fakespot, ReviewMeta offers analysis and insights to assist users in identifying potentially fake or manipulated reviews. It’s important to note that ReviewMeta only works with reviews on product listings found on Amazon and Bodybuilding.com. Instead of letter grades, ReviewMeta uses a pass/warn/fail rating system.
Don’t get fooled, always make an informed decision
Consider relying on e-commerce platforms and review websites that employ various techniques to detect and remove fake product reviews from their systems. These techniques include using automated detection algorithms, user verification, and strict review policies.
While online shopping platforms like Lazada and Shopee are against these practices, some businesses still abuse and get away with it. And despite the best efforts by these companies along with government oversight, there will always be a number of fake reviews that will slip through the cracks.
You need to be a savvy online consumer to avoid being manipulated by fake product reviews. Use your common sense and apply critical thinking when reading product feedback written by others. A review that seems too good to be true or laden with hate without justification should be taken with a grain of salt. To help other online shoppers, you may also take the time to actively engage with shopping platforms by reporting fake reviews and informing other consumers.