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By Prelini Udayan-Chiechi, VP Marketing EMEA at Bazaarvoice

Following a recent report analysing 7 million Amazon product reviews, which revealed extensive bias in incentivised reviews, the industry has come under pressure to re-evaluate customer feedback process. Incentivised reviews, which work by providing the reviewer with the reviewed item for free, or at a discounted price, are considered to affect the final result, as, in fear of getting ‘blacklisted’ from certain brands, reviewers may not always disclose the ‘incentive’. In fact, doubts persist regarding the integrity of review content, regardless of the type of website where it is displayed-  Bazaarvoice research reveals that 50 percent of consumers express concerns that one or more of the reviews they read online is fake.

As human beings we instinctively seek out our peers’ opinions as the main source consumers consult before making a purchase decision. Nevertheless, with consumers placing their trust, and cash, on the opinions of their fellow shoppers, it’s crucial that brands and retailers ensure this content is 100 percent authentic. Offering an incentive to customers to share their thoughts can help brands source valuable feedback. However, it’s important to be transparent when incentivising has taken place – otherwise efforts could result in a negative, rather than positive effect on brand reputation. Manipulating reviews violates the most basic ethical practices a company can hold, as they can falsely affect consumers’ purchase decisions and damage the company’s reputation.

Consumers have a fundamental right to trust the content they encounter, and moreover, businesses have a responsibility to ensure this content is legitimate. In order to safeguard this right, the industry needs to address the underlying issue that allows for this type of fraudulent behaviour. This can be achieved by displaying an industry mark, such as a trust mark, alongside consumer reviews. This will essentially ensure that the content is verified, by monitoring for keywords that imply a product has been sponsored and not clearly labeled and so on. Those in receipt of the mark are therefore able to demonstrate their commitment to authentic consumer feedback. Through this approach, brands will be able to increase consumers’ trust in reviews – in fact, 47 percent say they “would be more trusting of reviews” if presented with such a trust mark, and 84 percent stated that they would feel more trusting if they knew they were screened for fraud, moderated, and displayed by a neutral, credible third party.

Brands and retailers need to take a lead in calling for transparency and commitment to deliver a positive shopping experience, capitalising on the authentic content already being generated daily by armies of brand advocates. Tracking and analysing this feedback, negative or positive, is vital for research and development, and can transform data into valuable insights that can drive business decisions and provide context around customers, products and services, from highlighting supply chain efficiencies to guiding product development. Authenticity is fundamental to the value of reviews, and companies must recognise that and do everything within their power to ensure all feedback is genuine. Through this approach, brands will be able to build trust, acquire more content and ultimately elevate themselves above the competition.