When searching for a product, we often spend a tremendous amount of time making sure it’s good quality. The knee jerk reaction is to go straight for the highest-rated products. After all, with thousands of 5-star reviews, what could go wrong? With the rise of fake reviews, however, it’s becoming more challenging to separate fact from fiction. Verified digital IDs fixed to a payment source and upheld by blockchain may offer the means to truly validate reviews.
The fake review conundrum is becoming an even more significant issue in a post-Covid 19 world. As the high street has been under lock and key and we’ve become more dependent on e-commerce than ever before. And we expect to be able to buy in a safe and legitimate environment. Bogus reviews undermine this expectation and require a swift response.
How product reviews influence us
Product reviews are hugely influential when it comes to making a purchase decision. Back in 2015, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) estimated that reviews influence around £23 billion worth of purchases in the UK alone. Given that online shopping has increased in popularity since 2015—particularly amid the coronavirus pandemic—this figure is guaranteed to be more significant today.
According to a further report by the spiegel research centre, the likelihood of a customer opting for a product with just five reviews is 270% greater than the probability of purchasing a product with no reviews. While seemingly counter-intuitive, research also suggests that a higher number of reviews don’t necessarily correlate to a greater odds of a purchase. In fact, five seems to be the golden number—with nominal added benefits once reviews surpass that figure. With this discovery in mind, bogus reviews pose an even greater threat to the consumer as they don’t need to be in their thousands to make a significant impact.
To make matters worse, reviews seem to make a bigger impression on expensive products. For example, researchers found that reviews displayed for a lower-priced product held a conversion rate increased by 190%. Whereas, for higher-priced products, the conversion rate rose 380%. This presents even more risk to the consumer, as quality may not be related to the price.
The Fake Review Pandemic
Fake reviews aren’t just bad for consumers, they’re a nightmare for businesses too. While some, more unscrupulous business or product vendors may feel like a fake review or two could help boost their business, it may actually have the opposite effect. If caught out, consumers are much less likely to trust that vendor or company in the future. Moreover, a rival business commissioning fake reviews on a competitor could sound the death knell for that company’s reputation.
They may influence our buying decisions, and wreak havoc among our business, but how prevalent are faked reviews in reality?
According to data from Statista, as of 2018, Amazon -0.3%AMZN product categories, including supplements, electronics, and beauty share 60% of fake product reviews worldwide. As a likely knock-on effect of this, trust in online reviews has diminished over the years, declining from 17% in 2014, to just 6% in 2018.
The problem has become so widespread that Amazon has spent $400 million to date fighting back against fake reviews. The platform has even opted to take legal action after it uncovered a black market selling four and five-star reviews.
For bad actors, selling bots, designed to buy products on Amazon, and boost positive “verified” reviews, has become an entire market of its own. These bots slip through Amazon’s verification standard and can be employed to either boost positive reviews or be used to target a rival with negative ones. Unfortunately, not even Amazon can tackle the issue completely, as much of it takes place outside the platform.
On eBay, and even social media platforms such as Facebook, the black market for fake reviews has been thriving. In January 2020, the CMA found over 100 listings selling fake reviews. At the very same time, the watchdog uncovered a total of 26 Facebook groups in which individuals offered to write fake reviews in exchange for compensation. In response, both Facebook and eBay removed the content, and put measures to curb similar instances in the future. However, while likely well-intentioned, by taking bad actors on one at a time, not only are these firms fighting a losing battle but they’re wasting valuable resources doing so. Instead, they need to focus on the root of the problem by ensuring reviews cannot be written by anyone other than the genuine customer.
A Verified Solution
Fake reviews can be prevented using a verified digital identification underpinned by the immutability and security of blockchain. By combining a biometrically authenticated ID with a payment source, you can create an indisputable way of authenticating reviews. Picture this: you log-in to Amazon with your biometrically-verified digital identity to purchase that must-have product. A day after purchasing with your funded decentralised identity, the courier delivers your package—pinging your digital ID to enable contactless delivery. Satisfied, you leave an honest review linked to your payment-verified digital identity.
As long as the payment source used to buy the product under review is connected to the biometrically verified ID, consumers and companies alike can rest assured that the review is authentic and impossible to fabricate.
There are some novel takes on combating fake reviews already on the market. TrueReviews, a blockchain-based application, harnesses a “pay-to-post” model where crypto micropayments are used to simultaneously incentivize posters while discouraging bots. Other platforms, couple blockchain with biometric authentication, to provide a self-sovereign payment and ID platform that allows for a range of uses, including facilitating verified reviews.
With a review systems like these in place, not only would a company gain favour with consumers and enhance buyer trust, but it could also help crackdown on shoddy vendors offering subpar products.
With real user biometrics connected to the payment source used for the reviewed product, eCommerce platforms can stop the burgeoning market for fake reviews dead in its tracks— negating the need for trained human investigators checking the authenticity of reviews.
The entire system could be upheld by Amazon’s lauded review incentive system. At present good reviewers receive freebies and gift cards, win opportunities to try out new products, and gain recognition in the community. However, the current system, as we’ve discussed, is plagued with bogus reviews. By motivating real reviews from real digitally verified customers, not only does the platform and the seller gain but the reviewer does too—not only by a tangible reward but by kudos from within the e-commerce community.