The Internet has transformed consumers’ access to feedback and opinions from other customers. Many now rely on online customer reviews to help them make purchasing choices, but unfortunately, these cannot always be trusted. Which? investigations have found thousands of fake reviews across a variety of well-known online platforms.
These fake reviews risk creating harm by leading consumers into unwittingly buying poor quality or value goods or services. And in the worst cases products which are counterfeit or unsafe.
However, evidence has been lacking on the extent to which consumer decisions can be manipulated by fake reviews and the level of harm this causes. To address this, Which? worked with research consultancy, The Behaviouralist, to produce innovative research into how consumer behaviour changes in the presence of fake reviews.
The experiment involved 9,988 consumers undertaking a survey-based shopping task online, where they had to choose their favoured option amongst five alternative products, including a Which? Don’t Buy.
The results provided clear evidence that fake reviews cause consumer harm. We found fake reviews were highly effective at misleading consumers, causing them to choose poor quality products instead of better alternatives. All of our experiment’s fake review scenarios had harmful effects on consumer behaviour and in the worst cases more than doubling the proportion of consumers picking the Don’t Buy products.
The results demonstrate that the harm arising from fake reviews could be vast, with many consumers at risk of being misled into spending their money on substandard products and highlights the clear need for action to stop fake reviews.