According to various polls and studies it has been estimated that anywhere from 10-30% of online reviews are “opinion spam” — inappropriate or fraudulent reviews. We can't stop this but we can be knowledgeable, safe, and aware online shoppers. One way to be a savvy shopper is to know how to best use and interpret online reviews in your research for products or services. You probably already use reviews. In a polling report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in 2010, 78% of all respondents who use the Internet to research a product or service said that they do so at least occasionally. Not only that but the Internet users in the 50+ age group were “more likely than their young-adult counterparts to have researched potential purchases online." Most of us put a lot of trust in these reviews too. Amy Dusto writes that “online reviews from customers win the trust of 70% of global consumers in the new Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Survey." You also expect to find reviews and if you don’t then you will probably go looking for them. It is important to find reviews for your purchases and to know how to use them and how to identify the ones that you can trust.
You need to be able to tell the difference between legitimate reviews and the misleading “opinion spam”. First, let’s set down some guidelines for using reviews and then we'll go over a brief list of guidelines for identifying fake reviews. You can also view a short video below that showcases the top recommendations for using online reviews from OnGuardOnline.gov.
- Seek out reviews from more than one source. The more money that you are spending the more reviews and review sources that you should seek out.
- Pay attention to other products that have an unusually high number of positive reviews. In other words, be open to information that tells you that you may have stumbled onto something better than the brand or model that you were originally researching.
- Review the distribution graph of the customer ratings (e.g. the 5-star graph that you find on Amazon.com). Looking at the rating distribution may give you a different perspective.
- Look for common themes in the reviews. Are there numerous complaints or raving reviews about the same feature, customer service, or something else?
- Read reviews from the middle of the pack. These can be some of the most valuable because they tend to be written by people who have less extreme feelings one way or the other, or by those who have taken a bit more time to give a well-thought-out review about a product or company. Their comments are often rich in personal experiences, candid pros and cons, or even detailed comparisons to other products.
Six Quick Guidelines for Identifying Fake Reviews:
- Know how the customer review posting system works on a website. Are reviews anonymous? Are reviews edited by the site? Does the site have a check-and-balance system to ensure the reviews are truthful and fair? Are review contributors verified purchasers?
- Notice if any of the reviews are too much alike. Are they using the same language, or same type of testimony about a product? Have you found too many versions of the same or similar reviews on different places?
- Check to see when the reviews were posted. Are there a large number of reviews posted during the same time period and did this coincide with the product’s release?
- Pay attention to names of reviewers. Are there multiple reviews of the same product using similar reviewer names, e.g., janep123, janep124, etc.?
- Beware of reviews that are too positive. Does it sound too good to be true?
- Examine the language and writing style of the reviewer. Do they overly use adverbs (e.g. "very" or “really”) and exclamation points? Are they extremely subjective, mentioning "I" or "me" or even "we" more often than usual? Does the review sound like "marketspeak" and use feature lists or bullet points? Are exaggerated phrases used (e.g. “must read”, “chance of a lifetime”)? Does the reviewer use the full name of the company or business? These are all red flags.
Closed captioning is available. Click on the attachments link below to download the transcript.
How To Read and Write Helpful Online Reviews
A simple rule of thumb: Find reviews from people that write like you would if you were trying to help others by reviewing the product or service. Does the review contain details of unique firsthand experiences? Does the reviewer show an effort to be fair? Does the tone of their review give the impression of an altruistic attempt to assist others in making an informed decision? Online reviews can be a powerful tool in your shopping research. Keep these guidelines handy and use them to create your own shopping strategy. Having a strategy will give you focus and parameters that will save you time and help you make more informed and confident decisions. Lastly, if you do find online reviews helpful, take time once in awhile to add your two cents worth to the review process. Your opinions and experiences are valuable and sharing them can help others.
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