Last week the New York Times revealed information suggesting that one vendor is literally buying 5-star reviews on Amazon.com. With customers relying more on star ratings and customer reviews than vendor marketing hype, this revelation poses a problem for consumers.
Here are 6 ways that you can tell an online review is fake, or that a high customer rating is not truly earned:
1. Too Many 5-Stars
Be realistic. People are much more likely to take the time to whine and moan about a product than they are to praise it. It happens--just not as often as complaints. If you see a product that has a huge number of 5-star ratings, stop and consider whether the product actually seems like something that could incite such a frenzy.
2. Too Expressive
Real people write the way they talk. Reviews that are overly effusive and heap on too much praise should be a sign that it's probably fake. A real review written by someone who has used the product or service should read more like what you'd expect someone to say to you in a face to face conversation.
3. Marketing Hype
If the "customer" review reads like an online commercial, it probably is one. Reviews that are filled with over the top marketing buzzwords, or that seem to just be a list of product specs and features are probably planted by the vendor.
4. No Caveats
No product or service is really perfect. Even a 5-star review can have a "but" in there somewhere that explains one or two ways that it falls short, or that the reviewer wishes it worked differently. A review of pure glowing praise with no down sides should be a red flag.
5. No Reviewer History
A review from a user who doesn't seem to have any history of having reviewed or rated any other products is a sign that it could be fake. Obviously, every person has to start somewhere, so in and of itself this isn't cause to reject a review. Pay particular attention, though, if a product has a number of reviews from users who seem to be new to the rating and reviewing process.
6. Too Much, Too Soon
A popular product may very well have a large number of reviews and ratings, but odds are good they'll come in over some reasonable period of time. If you see a bunch of reviews that all seem to be entered at roughly the same time, you should think twice about trusting those.
As a side note for businesses, if you game the system and break the trust of consumers, the whole system will just collapse. The reason that people rely on customer reviews and star ratings to make purchasing decisions is because word of mouth marketing like that is organic and authentic--based on actual use of the product or service in real-world scenarios--and help people understand if a purchase is worth their time and money.
Instead of bribing customers, or spamming sites like Amazon with fake "customer" reviews, try making a superior product or service and let the word of mouth go viral on its own.