Manipulation on review sites is endemic, duping shoppers into making bad purchasing decisions. Blockchain could be the answer.
Do we really depend on review sites?
With 58 percent of consumers looking at online reviews at least once a week, the influence of sites that aggregate them should not be underestimated.
Research reveals that 93 percent of shoppers say the testimonials they read affect their purchasing decisions. In an era where we are buying things online without seeing them in person, this is somewhat understandable.
The personal experiences of other consumers can resonate more than the sales jargon they may encounter in stores, and that’s why 85 percent of them trust online reviews as much as advice from friends.
But here’s the problem: not all review sites, nor the reviews left on them, are born equal. The trust placed in these platforms means there’s a lot of manipulation going out on there. According to the same survey, four in five of us have read a fake review in the past year, and 84 percent of us have admitted we struggle to decipher which posts are authentic.
Why would someone fake a review?
Sometimes, because they’re being paid to.
New businesses, and those bruised by poor reviews from genuine customers, sometimes pay people to write glowing testimonials. It helps startups make it look like they have a long line of happy clients and enables badly rated companies to artificially enhance their reputation.
Despite efforts by universities to create software that can weed out phony testimonials, and a push by retailers to remove these posts, the practice is still endemic.
In part, this is because review writers don’t have to prove that they have purchased a product – and, in some cases, they don’t even need to provide their name or use an account to submit their review. Blockchain technology could confidentially keep track of a consumer’s purchases and only enable them to leave reviews for the products they have bought – plus prevent people from writing multiple posts. That’s because a tamper-proof database of their shopping history could be checked to see whether the item someone is trying to review is something they have bought in the past.
Warning signs to look out for when reading testimonials include an unusual amount of five-star reviews in quick succession, and vague language that suggests they’ve never actually laid eyes on the product. Real people who make the effort to write a review normally offer detail to back up their claims.
Does this mean I shouldn’t trust product rankings?
If you’re on a website which ranks products based on the reviews they have received, you should definitely be cautious.
A Vice journalist was motivated to show how these sites can be manipulated after he spent time writing fake reviews for restaurants a few years earlier.
He created a fake restaurant – complete with pictures of high-end “food” that was actually made out of bleach tablets and shaving foam – and listed it on TripAdvisor. Then, he asked his friends to leave glowing reviews about the fictitious venue, which was actually a shed where he lived in London.
Eventually, the restaurant soared to number one in the city’s rankings, even though it had never served a single meal to the public.
What about social media stars who review products?
Some everyday YouTubers have gained millions of subscribers by reviewing make-up, games and everything in between… but not everything is as it seems.
Although these stars might appear to be impartial, countless investigations have revealed how are paid by companies to promote certain products – or to share affiliate links with fans where they would get a cut of the sales. A lot of the time, these influencers do not disclose this conflict of interest, meaning young and impressionable viewers don’t realize that the positive review isn’t as balanced as they thought.
This is a concern because YouTube influences 18 percent of shoppers, with 51 percent of British adults aged 18 to 30 revealing they have purchased an item that was reviewed by an influencer.
Are all fake reviews positive?
Far from it.
A phenomenon known as a “review bomb” in the gaming industry has seen a concerted campaign of negative reviews be targeted against games from certain developers. In some cases, this has harmed startups who have just released their first-ever title.
One such incident came after Campo Santo, the company behind Firewatch, ordered PewDiePie’s streams of their game to be taken down on copyright grounds after the influencer used a racial slur in one of his broadcasts. Steam, the website where negative testimonials were left, has started isolating content left during review bombs as a result.
Restaurants have also been regularly inundated with negative reviews. An American bakery that refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple was bombarded with dozens of one-star reviews after its controversial decision hit the headlines.
Recently, a restaurant suffered a slew of bad reviews before it even opened its doors. Why? Because basketball fans were angry at how the owner’s husband had performed in the NBA championships.
So there’s a lot of problems out there, but what can blockchain do?
Blockchain could help the public trust the substance of the reviews they see online.
The technology has the potential to substantially reduce the number of testimonials which have been written with a hidden agenda – testimonials which mislead customers and cause them to spend their hard-earned cash on goods or services that aren’t up to scratch.
Blockchain platforms such as UUNIO are vowing to create spaces where testimonials are written “without external influence or interaction.” It has the ambition of bringing together reviews of “everything in the world” and rewarding the people who write them with cryptocurrency – irrespective of whether what they’ve got to say is good or bad.
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