Do you trust online hotel reviews?
Now that Amazon is suing more than 1,000 people who allegedly offered to write glowing product reviews for cash, you might reasonably be concerned.
Deceptive appraisals are commonplace online. Fortunately, there are a few good techniques that can help you tell truth from fiction.
In the wake of the Amazon trial in which 1,000 people are being sued for writing fake reviews, consumers may be concerned about the authenticity of online reviews while booking their holiday
Every year £23 billion of UK consumer spending is influenced by online reviews, according to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the independent non-ministerial department whose aim is to promote competition for the benefit of consumers.
Half of all adults in the UK — some 25 million people — use them. The younger the person, the more important the reviews are to their buying decisions. Furthermore, the more reviews there are, the higher up a business will appear on Google.
People trust the reviews because they believe they are unbiased and have been written by ordinary consumers like themselves, however in a special investigation by the Daily Mail it was revealed that an entire industry has been created to generate bogus reviews, both positive and negative, for cash.
‘If you want to give a good impression or mislead consumers into trusting you, the best way to do it is to fake online reviews,’ says Chris Emmins, co-founder of reputation management company KwikChex.
‘People want to believe these online reviews come from genuine people but often they are not. In fact they enable some companies to defraud consumers — there is no question about it.’
According to industry experts, the market for fake reviews is booming. Across the world — India and Indonesia are particular hotspots — companies have been set up to churn out fake reviews on demand by the thousands.
For consumers planning a holiday, reviews are integral to making an informed choice. Experts have created a checklist of how to tell if a review is fake.
Don’t trust yourself
A team of researchers at Cornell University created a computer algorithm for detecting fake hotel reviews by analysing the language used in legitimate and phony write-ups.
The computer program, Review Skeptic, is accurate about 90 percent of the time, but humans alone performed poorly at determining the truth teller.
‘People are terrible,’ said professor Claire Cardie, who helped develop the system. ‘I was very surprised. We just cannot tell the difference much more than chance.’
Listen to the language
Beware of extremes — overly enthusiastic or negative reviews are red flags.
False reviews tend to use more extreme language to get their message across. So if someone says ‘it is the most comfortable bed ever’ perhaps in all caps, take pause.
Additionally, the Cornell researchers found that when it comes to hotels, fake reviewers tended not to talk about the spatial details — such as the floor or bathroom.
Instead, they focused on the reason they were there, such as describing a recent fake vacation or business trip. In practice, this makes sense because someone who has never been to a location might have a tough time describing it accurately.
Review the reviewer
Check out the profile of the person providing the review, said Louis Ramirez, senior features writer with online deal site DealNews.
If they only write reviews for a particular company, that’s a huge warning sign they could have a vested interest in that business.
Amazon verifies some of its reviewers, while some other sites only allow posts from people who’ve made a purchase there. Look closely on the site for their review policies.
Pay attention to detail
If you think about your own experiences with an unpleasant experience or product, you can probably explain exactly why it was bad.
Ramirez suggests if you’re unsure about a review, put more stock in someone who provides details of why they didn’t like a product or experience.
DM’S SPECIAL INVESTIGATION REVEALS AN ENTIRE INDUSTRY IS DEDICATED TO GENERATING BOGUS APPRAISALS FOR CASH
To discover just how prevalent the problem has become, we visited a website called Fiverr on which freelance writers, graphic artists and computer programmers from around the world bid for work.
On it, I posted the following request: ‘I’m about to start marketing a holiday cottage in Scotland and want to get some good reviews on leading holiday sites — need reviews and advice on how best to do this.’
Within an hour, I had received more than 20 replies — the cheapest offering a fake review for just £3.50. But what exactly would I get for this?
One of those who answered, an American woman in her 30s who described herself as a writer and ‘stay-at-home-mom’, explained: ‘I would love to leave a positive review of your cottage. I will leave it on TripAdvisor or whichever site you think is best.’
I asked her how it would work. Given that she wouldn’t ever actually go to the cottage, should I should send her photos of the property and a description?
‘I wouldn’t do pictures,’ she replied. ‘Most of the time people write reviews they don’t have photos handy so I think it would look fake. That said, if you want me to use pictures I will. The best way to do it is for you to write exactly what you want the review to say.
‘I will post it from an aged TripAdvisor account, one that has previous reviews on it, and it will go up and stick with no problems at all.
‘Accept the offer I sent you, send me the text of the review and I will get it posted. TripAdvisor can take up to 24 hours to list a review. Once it is on their site, I send you a screenshot and close out the gig.’
I asked if she had done it before to which she replied: ‘Yes, I’ve done it several times before. Yesterday I did one in fact. Positive reviews always work.’