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May 22, 2012

Fake Customer Reviews Problematic for Companies like TripAdvisor and Amazon

By Jacqueline Lee, Contributing Writer

In February 2012, the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority ruled against travel review website, TripAdvisor, saying that the site couldn’t claim that it truly offered unbiased reviews from real travelers because it didn’t vet the comments to find out whether they were genuine.

For instance, the ASA found that in 2010, an executive at the Carleton Hotel Group, one of Ireland’s largest, e-mailed staff and told them to post positive reviews on TripAdvisor to counteract the fake negative reviews. At a Sussex hotel in the U.K., a guest asked for 1,000 pounds after claiming that he had suffered food poisoning. When the hotel didn’t pay, even though the food poisoning was not caused by the establishment, the guest posted a highly negative review on TripAdvisor.

“Small businesses suffer most as they tend to have few reviews and so the impact is greater,” Chris Emmins of KwikChex told The Daily Mail. KwikChex was one of the companies that brought the complaint against TripAdvisor to the ASA. “Although any business with a bad review does suffer, particularly if it is a false accusation of something such as food poisoning or bed bugs.”

A new study from Reevoo found that 88 percent of customers either sometimes or always consult user reviews when purchasing a product. If a website offers user reviews, then 63 percent of customers are more likely to make a purchase. According to an older Reevoo study, products with over 50 user reviews have a 4.6 percent higher conversion rate for sales than products with fewer reviews. Customers should analyze reviews more carefully, however, to ensure that they are real.

A team from Cornell University is trying to create an algorithm that will detect fake reviews on consumer websites. Researchers are trying to find ways to combat people like freelance writer Sandra Parker, who was hired by a “review factory” to post 5-star product reviews to Amazon.com (News - Alert) for $10 each. Amazon, TripAdvisor and Hilton are just some of the companies that have expressed enthusiasm for the Cornell project.

Amazon, according to a New York Times article, de-listed a Kindle case from a reseller called VIP Deals when they found out that the reseller was offering customers a full refund for the product in exchange for a 5-star review. The reseller itself had received two-star reviews overall, yet Amazon never questioned the stellar performance of either the case or of VIP’s other main product, a stun gun.

“This is an egregious violation of the ratings and review system used by Amazon,” a customer named Robert S. Pollock wrote in a review of the case that he entitled “scam.”

Another customer published a prompt rebuttal. This reviewer, himself a seller on Amazon, verified that he had both given and received free items in exchange for reviews on Amazon. “It is not a scam but an incentive,” the seller wrote.

When asked to comment on the matter, Amazon stated that its guidelines prohibited compensation for customer reviews.




Edited by Brooke Neuman
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