Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona is warning consumers that feedback and reviews of products and services are not all they are cracked up to be, and in many cases, might be misleading.
“People turn to consumer reviews to find out what others’ experiences are like,” said Kim States, BBB President. “Unfortunately, there is evidence that some online feedback is planted.”
Professional writers can stack websites with positive comments about a particular company’s products or services – or negative feedback about their competitors. Because of this, the consumer review landscape is often not what it appears to be, and comments must be taken with a grain of salt, whether on retail, travel or services websites.
In one case, a Wall Street Journal reporter plugged the name of a reviewer into a search engine and discovered the “consumer” was in fact employed as a communications manager at the company whose product she was praising. In other cases, similar or identical language has been used for various products made by the same company on different websites.
Online retail giant Amazon has a policy that prohibits “positive reviews for products in which the author has a financial investment.” Aside from company staff members and marketers, freelance writers are paid for each review they post that praises or trashes a company or its competitor.
While a great deal of online customer feedback is reliable, BBB urges consumers to consider several things when evaluating product and company reviews:
It is all in the name – Reviewers’ names that include two or three numbers at the end are often signs of robotic review-writing software. In addition, some fake reviews can be spotted if the reviewer’s name resembles a business or product name.
Watch out for glowing subject line and verbiage – Most consumers won’t use subject lines such as “This product changed my life.” Another giveaway is the repeated use of a product’s complete name and detailed description, such as “The XYZ Model 443 XZ outperformed all other television sets in its category.”
Unusual sentence structure – If the review is awkwardly worded, vague or praises its maker’s company, it may be planted. Cut and paste suspicious sentences into a search engine and see if it comes up on other sites. Does the feedback resemble an ad or review from a real product user? Consumer reviews that read like product descriptions in catalogs and websites probably are.
The marketing is in the message – If the review exudes blind product loyalty, uses marketing phrases such as “integrates seamlessly,” or “this is the kind of product that you’ve been looking for,” it was likely written by someone who is pushing the product.
Black or white reviews – While a consumer may have strong opinions for or against a company or its products, take a second look at any feedback that is excessively positive or negative. Once you understand how companies and hired reviewers work, you can often detect a feedback piece with a hidden agenda.
Long-winded reviews with “life changing” testimonials tend to raise suspicion. However, there is no guarantee a short consumer feedback post is legitimate either. The best way to get a feeling for a product is to read reviews from a variety of sources, and look for any pattern in feedback on a single site. Friends on social networking sites can be a good source for leads.
The more you read about the product and company, the better you will be at judging whether you are reading legitimate comments or meaningless marketing disguised as consumer experience.