While past RetailWire discussions have explored how online reviews can be skewed by motivations to earn higher rankings as a reviewer, turns out there's an easier to way for brands or retailers to gain positive reviews: cold hard cash.
An article in The New York Times pointed to several ads across the internet offering pay-for-review deals. On Fiverr.com, a help-for-hire website, one of several similar pitches stated, "For $5, I will submit two great reviews for your business." On another forum, Digital Point, a poster wrote, "I will pay for positive feedback on TripAdvisor." A Craigslist post stated, "If you have an active Yelp account and would like to make very easy money please respond."
The Times also quoted a freelance writer, Sandra Parker, who was "hired by a review factory this spring to pump out Amazon reviews for $10 each." She told the Times, "We were not asked to provide a five-star review, but would be asked to turn down an assignment if we could not give one.
The article pointed out the fibbed reviews comes as "boundless demand for positive reviews has made the review system an arms race of sorts. As more five-star reviews are handed out, even more five-star reviews are needed. Few want to risk being left behind."
Moreover, the article noted that it's difficult to determine the number of fake reviews on the web but scores of companies, including Amazon, Google, Hilton, TripAdvisor and several specialist travel sites, have approached Cornell researchers as part of their efforts to reduce them. As profiled in an Aug. 2 RetailWire discussion, the researchers created a computer algorithm based on the language used in reviews proved able determine if they were fake with close to 90 percent accuracy.
"Any one review could be someone's best friend, and it's impossible to tell that in every case," Russell Dicker, Amazon's director of community, told the Times. "We are continuing to invest in our ability to detect these problems."
As explored in a RetailWire discussion on July 1, Cornell researchers, analyzing Amazon's rankings, found that reviews are also slanted positive partly because people tend to accentuate the positive but also because negative reviews lower a reviewer's rankings.
But the Times article pointed out two other ways reviews can be influenced.
The first is overly encouraging positive reviews. The Cove hotel in Cornwall, England was taken to task by the British media for soliciting guests to post an "honest but positive review on TripAdvisor in exchange for a future 10 percent discount. The hotel claimed its loyalty scheme was being misconstrued."
The other is hiring a reputation management company. Andrew Allison, chief executive at one such company, Main Street Hub, told the Times, "A courteous response to a negative review can persuade the reviewer to change their reviews from two to three or four stars."
How big a threat is the apparent rise in fake reviews to the integrity of online reviews?