How can you tell a fake review from a real one?

There are companies out there that simply do not believe in what they’re doing. They think that they can’t have customers’ trust unless they buy it. They think that their products are not as good as their competitors’, that their customer care is not as brilliant as their worst enemies’, they think that they’re not good enough to survive their own business. This is something very common in today’s working experience, where virtually each product or item competes on a world basis.

On the other hands, customers are not always in a position to try each product or item they can find on the market. Therefore, they rely on reviews. Like Leslie Meredith puts it in her article at “It’s a bit like surveying your family and friends, but on a potentially much bigger scale”. The fact is that, well, reviews are more and more fake out there. Whether you are buying an iPhone app, a book, a 2-nights stay at a hotel or anything else, you must pay attention on what is actually written in the reviews of the product.

Each reviewing system has its own graphical representation of the general mood of the consumers about a certain item. Apple Store has stars, Tripadvisor has rings, Amazon has stars too. Let’s start by saying that looking at this graphical summary of customers’ opinion may be quick but it is probably not the best thing to rely on when taking your decision. This is because it’s kind of easy for any company to pay someone (or something) to write 5-stars (or 5-rings, or 5-whatever) reviews with no content or poor content just to increase its products’ status.

Graphics summaries can nonetheless help us understanding the reliability of a product review since it’s quite unusual for a product to have completely different votes when the number of votes is huge. Let’s say product A has 435 reviews: 300 are 5-stars and 135 are 1-star. This is very unusual, so we can think that this product status has been somehow mislead by positive or negative paid-voters.

When it comes to review contents, a Cornell University research lead on hotel reviews may help us telling fake reviews from the real ones (you can find a resume of this research both in Leslie Meredith’s article and in this New York Times’ article): “The fakes tended to be a narrative talking about their experience at the hotel using a lot of superlatives, but they were not very good on description”. For example:

My husband and I stayed at the James Chicago Hotel for our anniversary. This place is fantastic! We knew as soon as we arrived we made the right choice! The rooms are BEAUTIFUL and the staff very attentive and wonderful!! The area of the hotel is great, since I love to shop I couldn’t ask for more!! We will definatly [sic] be back to Chicago and we will for sure be back to the James Chicago.

Other products’ fake reviews are usually similar:

This app is so stylish! You did a great job with this app and I do really appreciate it! It does everything I always wanted! Must have!

Restaurant A has small plates packed with big flavor. Perfect place to meet for a drink and gently roll into dinner. Appreciated the guidance of the staff with perfect pairings of both beer and wine for our dishes. We ended up ordering the entire menu and nothing disappointed! Welcome to the neighborhood,Restaurant A!

Even negative fake reviews:

If you like sappy, bodice ripping, poorly written romance novels then buy this book. […] I kept reading it hoping it would get better, but it didn’t, then I decided to finish it just so I could write an effective review. It was so bad I returned it, and I never do that..

These reviews say nothing about the product itself or the customers’ experience. They are just stuffed with superlatives and abstract expressions and sentences. They are, to say the least, useless.

Look for relevant content when you have to choose whether to buy an item or not. This means not only looking at customers’ reviews that really describe a customer experience (with concrete words and references to the product features), but also reading articles about what you would like to buy, visiting the company site and simply ask people who already experienced the product (forums and social networks may be of help in this task). After all, there are also a lot of companies out there that do really believe in what they’re doing!

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