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Fake online reviews on the rise: A marketing strategy for online retailers?

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With the proliferation of online shopping and the myriad of options out there, it’s not surprising that consumers often turn to customer reviews to determine the legitimacy of businesses or the quality of the product being sold.  However a recent report on Channel NewsAsia programme Talking Point shed light on the rising trend of fabricated reviews on online site.The programme uncovered the rise of recruitment agencies which specialise in bringing on board as many as 80,000 fake reviewers in the region, which includes Singapore. The programme also spoke to a recruiter, who referred to the practice as a “marketing strategy” to boost sales of a product.Alibaba Group (Taobao), Lazada, Amazon and Zalora have not yet responded to Marketing's queries on their practices, while Shopee declined to comment.Several industry players Marketing spoke to collectively agreed that fake reviews on e-commerce websites are “a serious threat” to their credibility in the eyes of consumers. Steven Yap, head of digital at Kingdom Digital Solutions Malaysia, said that despite the short term gain, companies risk losing its credibility and reputation. This comes as consumers are now getting smarter, and are able to discern genuine reviews from fake/insincere ones when researching a purchase.“As the saying goes, people will always remember the things you did wrong and forget all the things you did right. Consumer trust is now most valuable for a brand and it takes time to build that relationship with consumers. One mistake can change everything,” Yap added.How brands can safeguard themselves against fake reviewsWhile there may not be a foolproof way to sniff out fake reviews currently, Yap said it is incredibly important that e-commerce players put in the relevant measures to identify suspicious user behaviour on site.This includes a spike in reviews for a certain product/seller in a short amount of time or multiple reviews that looks like it has been “cut-and-paste”. Reviews should also be filtered by verifying its authenticity based on the user’s profile, transaction history, and also past reviews.Agreeing with Yap, Prantik Mazumdar, managing partner at Happy Marketer, added that e-commerce brands must find ways to solve this problem. This can be through automated or manual verification of the authenticity of user profiles and their past purchases, and through culling of fake profiles/false reviews. This is similar to how Facebook culls fake/duplicate users every year. Mazumdar added:e-commerce brands need to ensure that fake reviews don’t exceed the 5% to 10% of their overall reviews to ensure that people continue to trust their platforms.“Fake news and fake reviews are a bane of the digital era – and are an unfortunate by-product of the Internet democratising information flow. It’s a necessary evil that we will have to manage and live it for the foreseeable future,” Mazumdar added.Also weighing in is Hemanth Magal, consulting partner, Ogilvy Consulting, who explained that brands also need to work together with e-commerce platforms to counter fake reviews. Additional measures include verifying product purchase and users, memberships, using algorithms, and linking reviewers to their social media accounts for recognition.“e-commerce platforms are aware of the issues surrounding fake reviews and have created some standardised procedures to prevent it. Adding to the issue of fake reviews, more people are now searching on e-commerce platforms for product pages and reviews, rather than websites,” Magal added.

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