Customer reviews: to consume in moderation or to moderate?

Despite an increasingly dense legal arsenal, the issue of false reviews remains complex for both merchants and buyers.

Autumn 2021 marked the first conviction of a company by the Directorate General for Competition on the grounds of having purchased and posted false consumer reviews. A first in France.

This situation underlines the extent to which consumer reviews are becoming a real windfall for merchants and distributors, a real attraction in terms of conversion. A 2021 study* indicates that for 43% of consumers in France, the presence of reviews is the third reason for buying a product online, after the price and the presence of a promotion. Hence the fact that some fraudulent companies have been created to write and sell fake reviews to companies.

In this context, since May 28, 2022, the ordinance transposing the Omnibus** community directive into French law is applicable: this is a new step in consumer protection, particularly online. Here, the challenge is to ensure that the reviews come from consumers who have actually purchased the product, to continue the fight against fake reviews and distorted reviews, wherever they are distributed – online, in stores, on social networks and shopping platforms etc.

It is also easier to impose penalties. No need to prove a distortion of competition to be able to sanction a fraudster. These penalties, set to become more severe, may amount to up to 10% of annual turnover.

If the arsenal legal becomes clearer, the question of the fight against fraud in reviews remains more complex than one might think at first glance. The prerequisite for thinking about them is to understand that negative reviews – so dreaded by brands – are not a problem in themselves. Explanations.

Change your perspective on negative reviews

Above all, we must re-examine the way we look at negative opinions. Because, if the illicit sector is of so much interest, it is because companies live in fear of a bad grade. Wrongly, because a negative opinion makes it possible to reinforce the credibility of the positive opinions left on the page or the site, by pure logic of contrast and because it is the game.

It may come as a surprise, but one way to ensure reviews are credible is to not brush off negative content. More than half of global consumers (60%)*** say negative reviews are as important as positive ones in purchasing decisions. And consumers are smart. They know that the presence of only positive opinions is suspicious. So, in addition to giving consumers authentic feedback on a product or service, negative reviews provide an opportunity for a brand to engage with consumers about ways to improve products, processes, or marketing. The brands that respond and take note of negative reviews are those that build relationships of trust and loyalty with their customers. But above all, it should be understood that negative content should be posted from the start.

That being said, it’s still worth pointing out that the faces of review fraud go beyond simply dismissing negative reviews. There is a plural reality when it comes to fake reviews, whether positive or negative.

Different ways of harming the consumer but also the brands

False positive reviews consist in retaining only glowing reviews that suit a brand or a distributor: this is a misleading commercial practice contrary to the consumer code. On the contrary, we distinguish false negative reviews, which on the contrary undermine the reputation of a brand by devaluing its products and its offer, often from competitors but also from dissatisfied consumers who blacken their bad experience with a brand.

Review fraud can also involve the large-scale duplication of a review, whether it is positive or not, in order to inflate certain tendencies in favor or against a product, in a misleading way.

Finally, while fake reviews can result from a conscious and malicious approach, they can also be conveyed in an involuntary way: typically, a company that has not identified that a specific review is fake and leaves it visible on its website , although not aware of her mistake, violates the regulations.

Humans and technology go hand in hand against fake reviews

In terms of the fight against fraud, various players contribute their stone. The regulator first of all, in this case AFNOR, which issues, after audit, certificates to platforms for collecting and managing opinions, for three years, so that they can carry out their activity.

Then comes what is called the moderation of opinions via these said platforms. They can be held legally liable if they allow their customers to engage in such practices. Thus, on the one hand, it is necessary first of all to evacuate the opinions which contain hateful remarks, insults, bullying, intimidation or harassment. In a second step, it is necessary to unmask the fraudsters by identifying in particular grammatical or spelling errors. Or the presence of the same IP address or the same pseudonym on several different notices. But still, it is necessary to detect the frauds, even tiny, by being able to follow the evolution of the tactics of fraud, because once unmasked, new methods are found.

Important clarification, moderation can only relate to the written content of the opinion, the star rating that accompanies it cannot be reviewed: the feeling experienced by a consumer cannot be subject to any moderation.

In this respect, fraud detection technology – via artificial intelligence – helps humans, but the latter retains a crucial role and alone makes the decision to accept or reject an opinion in the event of doubt. These moderation techniques are also reinforced for certain sensitive products. Health or drugstore products experience longer and more rigorous moderation deadlines with the involvement of legal departments to verify the degree of veracity of the statements made.

Exchanges between consumers

Fake reviews hurt consumers and businesses alike. They mislead buyers into making poor buying decisions, they erode trust in the brand and ultimately they cause the brand to lose market share. When a consumer has such an experience, very often he does not repeat his purchases and does not hesitate to testify about his negative experience to his friends, family and on social networks.

Consumers want to listen to each other and are interested in the brand they would like to buy from. The best thing brands and retailers can do is facilitate these legitimate conversations, with the ability for consumers to post and read reviews online. Encouraging and amplifying the voice of customers is critical to today’s marketing and it depends on how confident buyers can be in what they read.

*Bazaarvoice study conducted in March 2021 via the Savanta institute interviewing 1529 French consumers.

** The omnibus directive relates to a better application and modernization of the rules in terms of consumer protection and e-commerce. The ordinance transposing it into French law was published on December 23, 2021 and will be applicable from May 28, 2022.

*** Source Bazaarvoice study:

We wish to give thanks to the writer of this short article for this outstanding material

Customer reviews: to consume in moderation or to moderate?

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