Beware Of Phony Online Reviews During Holiday Shopping Season

Rachel Pierson
November 29, 2019 - 3:12 pm
Good review

(Getty Images)

Categories: 

CHICAGO (WBM NEWSRADIO) -- Black Friday and Cyber Monday shoppers will likely come across thousands of online reviews but not all of them are genuine, experts say. 

As the holiday shopping season enters in full swing, experts warn consumers to be mindful of product reviews they read that could influence their shopping decisions.

Edward Malthouse, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University, said phony product reviews are more prevalent than ever before.

"As a consumer, I would expect that at least half the reviews are probably genuine but half, or at least some fraction are not, so buyers beware," Malthouse said.

He said companies often hire PR agencies to write reviews or a competitor will write negative reviews to sabotage the brand.

"We can speculate that the majority of reviews are honest reviews from other users, but not always," he said.

Fake or Real Review?

To know if a review is real or fake, Malthouse said the first step is detecting the details.

"If you look for concrete details that come out in the review, I think that's a signal that there's something written by someone who's actually used the product," he said. 

While consumers are more likely to buy a product with more reviews, the opposite is true for ratings.

In a recent study he co-authored, Malthouse found online shoppers were less likely to purchase an item with a five-star review. Contrary to popular belief, more positive ratings do not simply result in higher sales.

"They became skeptical and they actually became less likely to buy it than when they went to a page that had a lot of positive reviews but some negative ones mixed in, which is a little paradoxical,"the professor said. "The negative reviews contribute to the authenticity of the review platform itself."

Malthouse added discerning real reviews from fake ones is now part of the online retail movement. As online shopping becomes the norm, and with social media leading the pack in attracting millennials to shopping sites, it's imperative to be careful of reviews, which can make or break someone's shopping decision.

According to marketing software firm BrightLocal, 72% of customers won’t take action until they read reviews and 15% do not trust businesses without any reviews. And unsurpringly, 91% of millennials trust online reviews as much as they do friends and family, according to BrightLocal. Only 6% of consumers don’t trust customer reviews at all.

"What all of these internet platforms did was they allowed for normal consumers to express their opinions and be heard by a global audience," Malthouse said. "Within the past 20 years or so is when we've seen this whole movement to where brands can't completely control their messages."