Should you trust online reviews?

The use of online reviews is growing. A recent study shows 79% of consumers read online customer reviews to determine whether a business is a good business. No longer do we have to wait for a select group of experts to declare “two thumbs up” — instead, anybody can read or write what he or she thinks online.

But should you trust everything you read?

Some businesses are trying to exploit this freedom by posting phony reviews. Recently, Amazon.com has taken a step to address this and actually ranks reviewers. To be a reviewer you have to have charged at least one cent on their site, which means they have financial information, making it easier to track down culprits and block fraud.

There are some simple things you can watch out for to spot phony reviews. Here's a list of "red flags" that might tip you off that a review is potentially fake:

  1. It's over-the-top: Words like "absolute worst" or "best ever."
  2. Direct mentions of the product with full name, a brand and model #: Acme Manufacturing versus something like ''this store." Or, is the review based on such a broad topic that you aren’t sure what the reviewer purchased or the service that was provided.
  3. Overly-written in first person: "overuse of "I" or “me”, trying to underline their own credibility.

 

On a positive note, here are signs that a review is the real deal:

 

  1. They purchased the item. There is proof of purchase or photos of a recent trip. If they stayed at the hotel you're thinking of going to and post pictures plus a review, that's pretty credible and useful.
  2. It's balanced. Most people will have one or two things they liked along with something they may have been surprised by positively or negatively. "I like the fit... but the zipper gets stuck sometimes." That sounds real.
  3. It's sourced. Anonymous reviews are far more suspect than a review that tells you who wrote it with brief biographical information.