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Cynthia Clark | September 20, 2012

Should Product Reviews Be Trusted?

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reviews.jpgCustomer reviews have become an integral part of the shopping experience, aiding prospects in their search for their next product. In fact, 72 percent of customers who took part in this year's Local Consumer Review Survey said that they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Nowadays, I rarely make a purchase without first reading other customers' experiences with the product or service I'm considering buying. Just this week I went through pages and pages of reviews before purchasing a new hairdryer. Because it's so easy to see what other customers are saying, there's no excuse for blind purchases.

And since I've come to depend on customer reviews, I was concerned to read Gartner's prediction that by 2014 up to 15 percent of social media reviews will be fake ones that have been paid for by companies. According to Jenny Sussin, senior research analyst at Gartner, as organizations try to find new ways to garner positive reviews, "many marketers have turned to paying for positive reviews with cash, coupons, and promotions."

While the thought that not all reviews are genuine has occurred to me before, this prediction worried me. If marketers are paying for reviews, can they be trusted? Are reviews becoming another form of paid advertising?

This practice is also short-sighted. Ultimately, if an organization attracts a customer through fake reviews, it might not be able to retain their business once they've realized that the experience fell short of their expectations. Moreover, disappointed customers are likely to use social media to tell the world about their negative experience.

And apart from public condemnation, Gartner pointed out that those organizations caught paying for fake reviews have been slapped with fines. In fact, Gartner pointed to a 2009 U.S. Federal Trade Commission ruling that paying for reviews without disclosing that the reviewer was compensated is considered deceptive advertising and will be prosecuted.

Organizations might consider paying for fake reviews to improve their business, but they are better off addressing their shortcomings and becoming more customer-centric. If they improve the experience they deliver to their customers, they won't have to pay for positive reviews because their customers will only be too happy to share their positive experiences.

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