Protecting your business from fake reviews is important to sustain customer trust and loyalty. Otherwise, your reputation and sales are at risk.

Online reviews are today’s word of mouth. They were designed to mirror the offline experience where people buy products and services based on recommendations from friends and family. In the world of online shopping and eCommerce, 85% of consumers read online reviews to influence their purchase decisions.

However, fake reviews are making it increasingly hard to trust online reviews. They have become one of the fastest growing types of fraud online, along with stealing identities and payment information. 

The problem is especially relevant during the holidays, with heightened fraudulent activity targeting millions of customers flooding eCommerce sites during this season. In fact, the National Trading Standards (NTS) in the UK has warned Christmas shoppers, saying that people have bought an estimated 80 million items based on trusting positive online reviews only to find out they have been duped when these products arrive.

Let’s take a deeper look at what fake reviews are, why and how they are harmful to your business and what you can do to protect your business from their detrimental effects.

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What are fake reviews?

Simply put, a fake review is any review published online, either by a human or a computer program, with the aim of misleading innocent customers. Most times, the reviewers have not bought or experienced the product or service being reviewed.

Positive fake reviews aim to drive customers into buying these products and services. These can either be from business owners themselves, or employees. Businesses can also pay for fake reviews in various ways, including offering cashbacks or discounts in return for positive reviews.

Positive fake reviews. Image courtesy: Apptentive 

Negative fake reviews can be an effort by competitors to discredit a business or actual customers who exaggerate to get refunds or compensation dishonestly. Competitor attacks are common through click farms and bots that gain access via customer acquisition campaigns, publishing fake reviews particularly on travel and ecommerce sites.

Fake negative reviews. Image courtesy: Moz.

How big is the fake review problem?

TripAdvisor took down over 1 million fake reviews in 2020. Trustpilot deleted over 2 million fake reviews in the same year. Amazon spent over $500 million and employed over 8000 people in 2019 alone to fight fake reviews and fraud.

Social media sites like Facebook are wading through groups where fake reviews are exchanged for goodies. It removed 16,000+ groups trading these reviews this year.

According to the World Economic Forum, fake online reviews cost an astounding $152 billion a year, not to mention the indirect costs from the problem.

Review fraud has gotten quite advanced with spammers constantly adapting to the rules of fake detectors, rendering many fake reviews undetectable. As a result, many online shoppers are constantly skeptical about the trustworthiness of online reviews.

Pew Research Center found that nearly 48% of consumers think it’s hard to tell if reviews are truthful and unbiased. In addition, 85% of consumers believe the reviews are sometimes or often fake or fraudulent. 

Holidays are big for sales, and even more so for scammers. Fake reviews are among the ways scammers devise to get into your customers’ wallets. From travel bookings to online shopping, warnings abound on how to spot fake reviews and avoid holiday scams.

Why are fake reviews harmful to your business?

The temptation to accommodate fake reviews is very high for business owners. Fake positive reviews can bring short-term economic gains to your business. However, systems and people will detect these underhanded tactics eventually.

The biggest blow to a business entertaining fake reviews is the loss of customer trust. The moment customers realize your business employs fake reviews to influence their purchase decisions, their trust in your business is immediately in question. 

Bazaarvoice found 28% of respondents would not trust a brand after suspecting fake reviews, and 27% would not trust the brands other reviews. Loss of customer trust due to fake reviews leads to dissatisfaction and abandonment. 33% of consumers returned items or simply abandoned their carts with 40% saying they would never buy from a business after being duped by a fake review.

Secondly your business can be suspended or called out on popular marketplaces where you sell your products or services. In addition you could be breaking the law, and end up paying fines accruing from your business’s false advertising. A business paid $1000 for fake positive reviews on Amazon, only for the FTC to discover and hit the owner with a complaint that resulted in a $12.8 million judgment

Clearly, fake reviews are a big problem in the eCommerce space. And turning off online reviews is not a solution. 

The case is clear on the major role reviews play in the buying process. You want to show your visitors and customers that your reviews can be trusted across the internet. So let’s talk about the 12 things you can actually do to ward off fake reviews.

How to Protect Your Business from Fake Reviews

1. Offer a great customer experience through great products and services

The number one way to trump over fake reviews is to offer great products and services. By consistently refining your products and services to offer the best to your customers, you will invite genuine reviews from genuine customers.

Offer the best product or service by taking time to understand your customers and solve their problems. Listening to them gives you the information you need to improve and offer personalized experiences. In addition to growing customer retention, you will earn happy and loyal customers. These customers will become your digital advocates, helping you build your online reputation.

Ultimately, those looking to poison the brand with fake reviews will find it challenging since genuine customers will be happy to give you real positive online reviews that will drown out the noise that fake reviews can cause.

2. Ask your customers for reviews

Asking for reviews is another sure-fire way of getting genuine, positive reviews that will drown out any fake reviews that may be sent your way. If you have provided that differentiated service, customers will be happy to share their views. Studies have shown that 70% of consumers are willing to leave a review if asked.

Implement a post-purchase email program that reminds customers to review your product as soon as they have had time to experience it. One or two weeks is a good time for the memory to be fresher in their minds. For a service, ask right after performing it. 

3. Use a review system that eliminates fake reviews

Investing in technologies that maintain digital trust ensures that sales and marketing efforts are aimed at genuine customers instead of bots that open up the avenue to fraud and fake reviews. Stepping up cybersecurity measures is key to locking out fraud for your customers’ sake. When you stay ahead by keeping fraud and the fake reviews out, you save on the costs of deleting or fighting fraud when it happens.

One way of eliminating fake reviews is through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Manual detection has many pitfalls, including the exponential growth of online reviews and spammer adaptation to existing detection rules. AI has the power to train models of high accuracy from ingestion of genuine review data, providing tools that recognize and weed out fake reviews. Additionally, AI can power recommendations that reflect user preferences and needs at the right time and place.

The UTU Trust API leverages social networks and other data sources to add more context to online reviews. If your customer is browsing through products, they will be shown those that friends or customers nearby also bought. The API works by finding connections between users to deliver smart social recommendations. We’re helping people trust online by mirroring how we trust in the real world.

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4. Reward genuine reviews

Incentivizing customers to leave online reviews promotes loyalty and motivates satisfied customers, who would otherwise be passive, to provide feedback for your product or service. 

Rewards could include discounts or chances to win prizes. As long as you are clear about how this user generated content is collected, rewards will not be misconstrued. 

At UTU, we are working on a blockchain protocol that will reward users for providing accurate reviews. We believe that your customers should earn from the reviews they create and the data they share. The protocol will compensate users for creating trustworthy reviews and ratings while ensuring these important sources of online reputation cannot be manipulated. In conjunction with the UTU Trust API, you kill two birds with one stone —- build your brand trust while rewarding your customers.

5. Be transparent about how you collect reviews

As shared before, transparency is one of the most important values to have as a business to build customer trust. 

Be transparent about who is leaving online reviews for your business. If you offer incentives for reviews, say so. If there is provision for you to add badges for verified buyers, do it. You can also indicate if a reviewer received an incentive to write an online review so that potential customers scrolling through your eCommerce site know exactly who wrote what. This will help them make informed purchase decisions.

6. Monitor your mentions online

Set up Google Alerts to stay on top of reviews and more brand mentions across the web. Google will send you an email of your brand mentions daily or weekly, depending on your preferences. Set up keyword and hashtag alerts on social media. Tweetdeck is a great way of keeping up with mentions effortlessly.

By staying on the lookout, you are able to respond, report or remove fake reviews much more efficiently.

7. Read and respond to your reviews

Make a habit of going through recent reviews of your business across the web. Respond to them. Reviews give you an avenue to interact with your customers publicly, further demonstrating that you are reachable and proactive. 70% of customers are likely to use a business that responds to reviews.

Regardless of whether a review is fake or genuine, you need to respond to it. If a negative review is genuine, take the complaints seriously and take action immediately. Respond professionally and outline steps to remedy the situation ASAP. 

If the negative review is fake, maintain the same professionalism by drawing attention to the authenticity of the review. Point out that you cannot ascertain the reviewer’s patronage of your product and service and ask them to contact your business directly for further clarification. Don’t return the negativity. Genuine customers are looking for your responses.

8. Don’t delete or hide negative reviews

Did you know that 72% of consumers say that negative reviews provide them with more insight into a product or service? Negative reviews are an opportunity to show that you are listening to your customers while also proving that your products and services are not too good to be true.

The power of negative reviews cannot be understated. In 2021, 96% of online shoppers look for negative reviews to make informed purchase decisions. Responding to negative reviews in a timely manner builds trust in your business. 

9. Report/remove fake reviews immediately

Removing fake reviews may be a long shot, especially on bigger review platforms but it is worth a try. Know how to spot fake reviews as a business owner. 

Fake reviews are characterized by:

  1. Generic content lacking in detail – limited product, hotel or service descriptions
  2. A barrage of reviews over a short period of time
  3. Anonymous user accounts with limited number of reviews
  4. Overly negative criticisms that diverge from other reviews – more hateful phrases
Image courtesy: BrightLocal

Once you spot them, you can then remove or flag them with more ease. Contact the platform’s support and understand their removal policy. Follow their steps to flag the fake reviews. However, they can take quite some time to remove them. Sometimes, they may not remove them all. 

Here is a great example of an expert helping small businesses remove fake reviews on Google My Business. You can see how a few reviews can bring an aggregated score down fast from that example. 

10. Involve your customers in identifying fake reviews

As you flag the fake reviews, enroll the help of your customers to help you report them too. Companies like Amazon have features in place to allow anyone to flag fake reviews. So you can rally up your fans and customers to help you flag them down. Empower them to help by sharing how to do it. 

Fight fake reviews beyond your business. Support efforts to fight fake reviews across the web. Flag them when you make your own purchases or visits. Help make the internet a safer, more trusted place to gather, share, work, and trade.

11. Warn your customers about fake reviews

Once you notice fake reviews posted on larger platforms beyond your control, in addition to flagging the content, warn your present and potential customers. Call out fake reviews on social media, like this business owner did here. Put up informational banners on your website and product pages where possible. You might get immense public support from genuine fans and customers.

Complement genuine reviews with your own marketing efforts to set the record straight. Maintain a professional website that houses all the information a customer might be looking for, including comprehensive product descriptions, answers to frequently asked questions and how to contact you.

The World Economic forum further recommends education as another step towards protecting your business’s online reputation. By understanding how fake reviews are affecting other businesses in different contexts across the larger market or industry space, the risk to smaller or more specific business use cases can be more easily assessed.

Moreover, the sooner you are up to speed on the latest trends, the better. These include technologies to harness to fight fake reviews, the latest online frauds to guard against, and up-to-the-minute ways to collect user generated content. You will always be one step ahead of the competition.

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Fake online reviews will keep rearing their ugly heads, especially with the rise of review platforms beyond your control. However, if you adhere to the steps outlined above, your journey to building customer trust and loyalty will be assured.

Interested in learning more about how our Trust API can help you fight fake reviews and increase trust in your business? Reach out to us here or email us at [email protected]. We would love to hear from you!