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Users Seek Out the Truth in Online Reviews

Consumers look for indicators of review authenticity

February 7, 2013

Long considered a helpful tool for consumers to make informed decisions, online user reviews have become a subject of scrutiny, according to a new eMarketer report, “Online User Reviews: Building Trust and Boosting Sales.” Reports abound of fake reviews and the dramatic countersteps taken to prevent them. The question is whether consumers can see past bogus reviews as isolated incidents or if such reviews are pervasive enough to threaten the confidence of shoppers.

Level of Trust in Online Reviews According to US Internet Users, Aug 2012 (% of respondents)

Ratings and reviews have become a staple of the online shopping experience. According to an October 2012 survey by Ipsos OTX and Ipsos Global @dvisor, 78% of internet users considered them influential when making buying decisions. But as ratings and reviews have become more common, their credibility has come into question, with estimates of fraud reaching as high as 30%.

While reviews are primarily posted and read online, their influence is felt in the offline world as well. Nearly 70% of US internet users sometimes compared prices or read reviews before visiting a brick-and-mortar store, according to February 2012 research from AYTM Market Research. About one-fifth always did.

Despite concerns that reviews may be bogus, there hasn’t yet been a consumer backlash against ratings and reviews. Search Engine Land’s “2012 Local Consumer Review Survey” found a 3-percentage-point increase in trust for positive reviews among internet users between 2012 and 2010. But there were gradations of trust: 28% said they trusted reviews if there were multiple reviews; 24% said they trusted the reviews if they believed them to be authentic; and 20% said they trusted reviews for some types of businesses but not others.

Ways Online Customer Reviews Affect Opinions of Local Businesses According to Internet Users in Canada, UK and US, 2010 & 2012 (% of respondents)

Battery Ventures, a venture capital firm focused on technology, conducted an April 2012 survey that turned up an array of factors that triggered distrust among internet users. Poor grammar and spelling were as suspect as a website that seemed untrustworthy in itself.

Reasons that US Internet Users Might Not Trust An Online Product/Service Review, April 2012 (% of respondents)

Though few will disclose the mechanics, many sites are using fraud detection platforms with defined rules and algorithms to prevent fake reviews from showing up in the first place.

But beyond staving off overt attacks, companies have different approaches to how much user-generated content stays on sites and how ratings and reviews are displayed in ways that instill confidence.

Since more reviews increase trust and aid sales, building up a stable of them is important. And simply asking for a review is key.

According to ROI Research, half of social network users respond to retailer prompts to provide feedback. Organically, though, they are more likely to comment on a social network (44%) than post a review on a site (38%).

The full report, “Online User Reviews: Building Trust and Boosting Sales” also answers these key questions:

  • Why are ratings and reviews influential for shoppers?
  • What is the connection between online reviews and sales?
  • How can businesses increase trust?
  • Do negative reviews hurt business?

This report is available to eMarketer corporate subscription clients only. eMarketer clients, log in and view the report now.

Check out today’s other articles, “Social CEOs Drive Company Visibility” and “Parents in Canada Put a Premium on Tech Tools.”


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