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The UK fake review epidemic: how can businesses rebuild consumer trust?

It was recently reported by the Competition and Markets Authority that businesses are ambushing rivals and promoting their own brand using fake reviews - many of which are paid for.

As the competition authority estimates that £23bn a year of consumer spending is potentially influenced by these online reviews, it’s no wonder that many businesses perceive purchasing endorsements as a quick fix to boost sales for their products or services - but in reality, this creates a deadly double-barrelled backfire against the brand, and ultimately, the bottom line.

Firstly, it inevitably leads to frustration and a sense of betrayal when the customer’s expectations aren’t met after they do purchase based on a fake review. Long term customer relationships are built upon transparency and trust - it’s up to the business to ensure all the information they share with potential customers is valuable, honest and succinct.

More importantly, online reviews have been one of the most useful ways to encourage and facilitate online spending. Offering people the ability to share and read real-life reviews from others has been an invaluable function in democratising consumerism, allowing businesses to build trust amongst an increasingly sceptical British public.

Now the cat is out of the bag regarding the widespread abuse of online reviews, they have been devalued when used as a tool to inform and encourage consumers to trust and spend online with a business.

A spokesperson at Which? commented, "Retailers should be vigilant and try to root out bad practice on their sites, and consumers should check a number of different sources, including genuinely independent experts like Which?."

Not only is this statement completely self-promoting, it does very little to help the root cause of the issue at hand. Consumers and independent watchdogs shouldn’t be laboured with the task of discerning and scrutinising reviews for impartial and useful information. It should be up to retailers to invest in intelligent ways to ensure verified and useful customer reviews are featured on their own website, giving them the chance to confidently create, strengthen and recover relationships with their customers.