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BizReport : Ecommerce archives : July 17, 2013

Research: The reality behind deceptive product reviews

A new report suggests the phenomenon of 'deceptive reviews' is far more widespread than expected and perpetrated, not by shady gangs of rogue reviewers or competitors, but by existing customers.

by Helen Leggatt

According to a new report, 'Deceptive Reviews: The Influential Tail', written by MIT Sloan professor Duncan Simester and co-authored with researcher Eric Anderson of Northwestern University, negative reviews are "not just due to the strategic actions of firms bolstering their image or competitors trying to damage that image. Instead, the phenomenon extends to individual customers who have no financial incentive to influence product ratings".

Simester and Anderson researched reviews posted on a well-known private-label clothing firm, of which there were thousands. The firm in question does not allow other retailers to sell its products.

Unlike a hotels or restaurants, the huge number of products and competitors in the apparel market means the motivation to write negative reviews about a single competitors' product is weak, and the impact on sales negligible.

It was surprising, therefore, to find that 5% of product reviews on the clothing website were written by existing customers who had never purchased the product being reviewed. These reviews were far more negative, with far lower product ratings than the remaining reviews written by customers.

Furthermore, these 'deceptive reviews' could not be attributed to a small group of rogue reviewers or a competitor bent on steering custom their way.

"It is very unlikely that the effect is due to agents or employees of competing retailers submitting negative reviews to induce substitution to their own products," concludes the report.

"Instead the low rating effect appears to be due to actual customers engaging in this behavior for their own intrinsic interests. In this respect, the findings represent evidence that the manipulation of product reviews is not limited to strategic behavior by competing firms."

Image via Shutterstock

Tags: competitor, customer behavior, customer feedback, online reviews, product reviews, retail

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