Online reviews are more popular than ever, according to studies showing that consumers rely on them increasingly as they make buying decisions about products and businesses. But why are we so quick to trust information from strangers? Are we forgetting that many online reviews are just flat out fakes? How do we know what to believe when we’re looking for guidance online?
This year’s Local Consumer Review Survey showed that 85 percent of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, up from 76 percent just a year earlier. The most popular business types were: restaurants, doctors and dentists, hotels, shops and hair and beauty salons. The survey said 67 percent of consumers read six or fewer reviews. Finally, 73 percent of people said positive customer reviews make them trust a business more.
Plenty of people trust Edmunds.com, the car review and pricing website. This summer Edmunds filed suit against a Texas company, alleging that Humankinds Design Ltd. had registered nearly 2,200 fake members and tried to use them to create fake content to sway readers’ opinions of certain car dealers. Edmunds put out a statement quoting its president and chief operating officer, Seth Berkowitz:
“We often say that we’re in the business of trust, and, as we build our business based on the trust that consumers have in us, we will always do our best to ensure that people engaging with Edmunds have an authentic experience.” He said, “Car shoppers and dealers can trust that we at Edmunds do everything we can to prevent fake and otherwise inappropriate reviews from appearing on our site.”
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Trust. Trust. Trust. He said it three times. And the statement concludes: “The message here for consumers is all about trust.”
In reporting on the Edmunds lawsuit, Canada’s Financial Post quoted Berkowitz as saying, “Every single website in the world has some reviews on it that are bogus.” That story also highlighted the skepticism that should be given anonymous reviews. “If you’re not prepared to put you name on something that’s a problem,” said consultant Robert Talbot. “It’s like anything on the web.”
Who do people trust? According to Nielsen, 92 percent of consumers around the world trust recommendations from people they know. Consumer opinions posted online were trusted by just 70 percent of respondents in Nielsen’s survey.
So when it comes to trust, it seems the vast majority of us are on the friends and family plan.