We have a love-hate relationship with user reviews

On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. But even if they think you’re a dog, they may be pretty dubious as to whether you’re leaving a glowing five-star review of those novelty dog lips because you genuinely love the product, or because you’re a plant that gets more dog treats for posing with them. It’s a minefield.

We have a love-hate relationship with user reviews

Astroturfing – the act of planting fake reviews on the behalf of a business – has actually been illegal in the UK for some time, but while it’s technically punishable by up to two years in prison, in practice it’s nigh on impossible to enforce.

Fortunately – or sadly, depending on how sunny your outlook on life is – internet users are a cynical bunch and don’t trust everything they read. A survey of 2,000 people from reviews site Feefo found that, while 74% of people claim to be influenced by online reviews, just 7% of respondents were gullible enough to say they completely trusted them.

Perhaps aware of the problem of astroturfing, 81% of online shoppers specifically seek out negative reviews, in order to see if there are any consistent themes that emerge. 56% believe that no negative reviews is something of a red flag, following the “too good to be true” school of thought. 60% of the respondents took language and tone into account when judging a review’s legitimacy.

One way companies have tackled the trust gap in the past is by only allowing customers that have verifiably bought the product to leave a review – but that comes with a number of problems: not only is it a bit unfair that someone who bought a book in a charity shop is unable to leave a review on a website, but it’s also something that’s really limited by company size. Amazon could get away with such a policy, but a smaller outfit with fewer sales can’t afford to be choosy about where its reviews content comes from.

Some companies also send out free samples under the understanding that customers will leave an honest review, but that too is difficult for consumers to assess: how objective can they expect a review to be when the author hasn’t had to pay for it, and hasn’t compared it to dozens of its rivals? More to the point, how do they know there wasn’t pressure to glaze over the negatives?

It’s a difficult problem to grasp, but for now, it looks like UK shoppers are navigating the issue in the best possible way: with a healthy dose of distrust and cynicism.

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