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Consumer reviews are very valuable, both for the sites displaying them and the customers using them to help with their purchase decisions.
However, the credibility of reviews has come under attack over the past couple of years, with lots of examples there are plenty of examples of brands that have been caught out.
As it stands, online customers tend to trust reviews more than most sources, except recommendations from family and friends, but that could change.
Reevoo has just published a plea to Amazon, asking for the online retail giant to ditch all but its verified reviews.
So, should Amazon heed this plea?
The ease of faking reviews
Amazon was an innovator with its use of reviews, as well as they way in which it used them on its product page for maximum impact.
However, since anyone can leave a review, the credibility of the whole lot may be in danger.
Since Amazon is such a massive ecommerce player, there is a real incentive for unscrupulous brands and marketers to try to game the system by leaving fake positive reviews on their own products, or by dissing those of competitors.
In fact, there's a massive industry built up around fake reviews, especially targeting Amazon. (Here's how to spot a fake review).
On Freelancer.com, there are 200+ ads for people to produce fake reviews for the site:
You can sympathise with the challenge that Amazon has in combatting such mass targeting of its site for placement of fake reviews, in fact it's hard to see how it could be stopped effectively.
Then there are reviews which just aren't any use for customers, such as those due to the 'fanboy effect', where Xbox and Playstation fans use Amazon's reviews to argue over who has the best console, or political books, where entrenched views means reviews are highly polarised:
The case for dropping unverified reviews
Reevoo highlights the example of a product page for a trampoline, of which 90 out of 162 reviews are unverified.
These 90 reviews may be from people who have purchased the same trampoline elsewhere, or they could be someone with a particular axe to grind, or they could be fake.
Since we have no certainty that the reviewers have purchased or used the product, then they could seem less credible than the others.
Besides, if you have 72 verified reviews, I'm not sure of the purpose of the others. It could remove credibility from the page.
I think there is value in having a volume of consumer reviews so that customers can form an impression based on a wide range of opinion, but I'd say 40+ is more than enough.
Amazon clearly values reviews, and it knows the value they add to the business in terms of greater conversion rates, so you can understand why it would be reluctant to change this model.
I suspect, with the growth of the fake review 'industry', Amazon and others will eventually be forced to move to a verified-only model, and other sites will follow suit.
After all, if it consistently emails buyers asking for reviews, then with its sales volumes it will easily gather a large amount of verified reviews.
Otherwise, as Reevoo argues, consumer trust in reviews will fall, and the value of reviews in general will decline.
What do you think? Is there a potential trust issue with reviews? Should Amazon ditch all unverified feedback?