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The great big reviews investigation: UK CMA will take action on fake reviews

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In case you missed it, earlier this month, there was a lot of noise about fake reviews.

After some bad practices were brought to light, the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) conducted a review of the £23bn industry around online reviews and endorsements in the UK.

On the upside, the CMA found that more than half of people in the UK use online reviews to help them make buying decisions, most consumers appear to trust them and most said the product or service matched up to the review.

But it also found examples of fake reviews being posted onto review sites, something which could serve to mislead customers. Not only that, it had evidence of some businesses paying for people to write fake reviews to boost ratings on review sites compared with their rivals, essentially misleading customers and maliciously hurting the competition.

There was one further practice the CMA pointed its finger at the suppression of negative reviews without making it clear to consumers this was the case.

Why negative reviews can be good, not bad for business
While some companies may panic at the sight of negative reviews appearing on their websites, this is not as simple as ‘let’s hide the bad stuff and only show the good stuff.’ It’s much more serious. The suppression of negative reviews without disclosure to consumers may constitute a breach of Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and the CMA has said it will investigate any business that falls foul of consumer law and take enforcement action where necessary.

While there is both good and bad in the CMA report, we should ask ourselves, did it really need to get to this? After all, the whole purpose of reviews is about trust, information and transparency. What is more, contrary to popular belief, negative reviews can actually be good for business.

In fact, studies show that the average star rating that drives the most conversions on a website isn’t a 5-star rating anyway, it’s something much lower. And are we really giving enough credit to consumers by removing the negative reviews? Let’s not kid ourselves, shoppers look for negative reviews to validate purchase decisions, and most people are savvy enough to discount overwhelmingly positive ratings as biased.

Time to clean up
So where does this slightly damning report on reviews leave us? Well, firstly if you’re concerned about showing negative reviews on your website, don’t be. Give customers the transparency they deserve and will thank you for.

Secondly, are you confident in your reviews supplier and its ability to weed out fake reviews?  In light of the report, it’s never been more important to ask your reviews partner how they verify real reviews and stop the fake ones dead in their tracks. At PowerReviews for example, our review collection process enables companies to collect reviews from verified purchasers and then badges those reviewers as “verified buyers.” We also use best-in-class anti-fraud protection software and digital fingerprinting to establish authenticity. Can your reviews supplier say the same?

While the CMA report revealed some bad practices taking place with reviews, it’s crucial to ensure that this bad practice is not happening on your watch. Aligning with the right reviews technology partner will not only help you adhere to the law but will also improve the engagement and trust you can have with your customers.

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