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Latest update: September 2023 | by Lili


The problem with fake reviews


Table of contents


Word-of-mouth is a powerful force behind a business’ good reputation. In the 21st century, word-of-mouth moved online in the form of customer reviews. The idea of reviews is great, because it lets interested parties know what to expect from a business, and it also keeps that brand in check. There’s nothing quite like the threat of a bad review to inspire a business to excellence.


Unfortunately, there’s one major problem with online word-of-mouth. What if the mouth is fake?



The reason behind fake reviews

When making a purchase decision, customer trust in a brand is a significant factor. Building trust in consumers is a lengthy process, but it’s absolutely necessary if you want to establish your brand’s reputation. There are several roads that lead there, but whichever you take, having glowing customer reviews is an excellent boost for the ride.


The importance of reviews is especially true for online shopping, since in that case consumers are not able to physically check a product and they have to place their trust in shoppers who went before them. In fact, a recent report states that 76% of consumers read reviews before committing to a purchase.

Discover the value in your brand’s reputation.

However, there may be brands and online sellers who don’t want to wait patiently for their real customers to leave real reviews on their website or online store. Instead, to accelerate the process, they may resort to creating fake reviews, or even buy them in bulk from specialized fake review factories.


It’s certainly tempting to take a shortcut on this one. Since the internet is endless and decentralized, it’s nearly impossible for regular people to find out who the real person is behind an online pseudonym. As long as they sound authentic, fake customer reviews left by John F. from Texas or Silke K. from Berlin can help a business gain real customers.


Except they may be in for a surprise when they find their own experience with the business a bit different than what the army of positive reviews promised. 



Fake reviews in numbers

According to a recent report published by the World Economic Forum, fake reviews create an annual $152 billion loss for the global economy.


Tripadvisor disclosed in its 2023 Transparency Report that about 1.3 million reviews were identified as fake and removed from the platform; in 2022, over 60% of these were so-called boost reviews that came from the provider's circle of acquaintances. 


This is just the tip of the iceberg. Any webshop, marketplace or review aggregator site is vulnerable to fake reviews, including big names like Amazon, eBay, Facebook and Google



How do companies find fake reviewers?

There are several ways to find fake reviews for a website.


Companies willing to invest the time and effort may look for real, authentic reviewers who often leave their opinion on similar products or services. It’s best if these reviewers have established accounts on the chosen platform and leave regular reviews. That way, who will be able to tell if the fake review is actually not the result of an honest, organic purchase?


Once the reviewers are found, these businesses reach out in an email and try to convince the reviewer to write a new piece about their product. In return for the review, they may offer a free product or even money.


Screenshot of a request for a product review on amazon.com

Screenshot of a request for a product review on amazon.com

While this method doesn’t lead to unbiased reviews, at least they come from real people who may even have an authentic experience with the reviewed product. Unfortunately, there’s a faster method that may not even require the participation of humans.



Review factories

An investigative report by Which? revealed five fake review companies that specialize in creating reviews for Amazon & Co. These companies employ humans along with review bots to quickly and efficiently boost product listings, sellers or service providers across various platforms.


Brands engaging the services of such review factories can choose between several pricing packages, depending on the amount and frequency of reviews they want. At one “provider” $10,000 buys you around 1,000 fake reviews.



A few tips to recognize fake reviews

To the naked eye (i.e. without the use of IP address detectors and other targeted software tools), it’s hard to distinguish between genuine and fake reviews. Hard but not impossible.


First of all, look at the age of reviews. Did the majority of them come in within a short period of time, while at other times almost no reviews popped up? Suspicious.


Don’t forget the content. Does everybody absolutely love the product and there’s not one even slightly negative opinion in sight? That looks fishy (and besides being fake, it may also hint at the brand’s practice of deleting negative reviews).


Finally, if the website displays the location of reviewers, check out where they’re all from. Are people from London, Berlin, Beijing and Paris all reviewing a local Amazon seller in Missouri? Not very likely.



What should brands do

First of all, don’t use fake reviews. They may seem like a quick solution to establish your new product or even your entire brand, but the risk of being associated with fraud is too high to be worth it.


Several marketplaces and review aggregator platforms have procedures in place against fake reviews and brands who use them. Amazon, Yelp and Google, for example, all use a combination of AI and human investigation to determine if a review is genuine or not. Yelp may even flag down a business with a Consumer Alert notifying readers about suspicious review activity.



Screenshot of trust.yelp.com explaining the alert about suspicious reviews

Thanks to new legislation, the Competition and Markets Authority in the UK may even issue fines for displaying fake reviews. The US is considering similar measures.


All in all, fake reviews are just not worth the risk they bring for a business. If your brand wants to gain competitive advantage the right way, ensure your products are displayed in clean marketplaces without the presence of cheap counterfeits, grey market products and lookalikes.


If you want to know how to achieve that, or you have any concerns about fake reviews or IP infringements, get in touch with globaleyez.