In the world of e-commerce, a thin line exists between genuine and fake reviews.
Many people have become dependant on e-commerce platforms for, well, everything. Especially with expensive purchases, there is one section on which a consumer often places trust: reviews and feedback. These often make or break the deal for buyers. However, it is the faith that people place on ‘regular’ individuals giving their opinions on products, that has led to the creation of the dark world of fake reviews.
Sukamal Karmakar, a 30-year-old civil engineer, almost never gets time to go out and shop and, thus, gets most of his shopping done through popular online portals. A year back, while buying a smartphone from an Indian e-commerce platform, he did extensive research and went through tonnes of reviews before making his final choice. “I saw some 20-30 reviews stating the same thing — that the phone is a sturdy one. The reviews seemed so original that I decided to get it. The reality turned out to be totally different. It did not take more than two weeks for the screen of the phone to break while in my pocket.”
Karmakar's is not an isolated incident. Like many others who have been faced with disappointment, he adds, "I stopped believing in comments and reviews and now prefer my friends’ and acquaintances' word of mouth.”
The civil engineer, in fact, faced a double whammy when a certain pair of shoes from a fashion portal, where reviews suggested that the products were as depicted in photographers, turned out to be entirely different.
But, a lot of questions emerge: Who are these fake reviewers? Why do they indulge in such activities?
Is money the motivator? To answer these questions, Anuja Kapur, a renowned criminal psychologist, said, “Fake reviews are nothing new. But, what is new is how effortless it's become to spread wrong information on a large-scale using the Internet. These reviews are mostly influenced by money or other monetary factors such as shopping coupons, reward points, incentives or free products. At times, while people are promised the above things, often after the review is shared, no such benefits are received by them.”
Whether it is a seller who is creating a network of fake reviewers, or the person behind the keyboard who could use the moolah, greed and ease-of-execution drive this fraudulent activity forward. “People don’t want to sell stuff with the best features and quality but certainly need reviews to generate sales by fooling the masses. In a developing country like ours, people may go forward with this scam for a mere hundred rupees. The mindset of the people is such that free cash by fooling people is okay for most of them,” adds Kapur.
Gaurav Shukla, Co-founder of online entertainment platform Sarcasm, explained how money and reviews have created a plastic world in social media platforms. He opines, “With the rise of apps like Instagram, product marketing has gone south because of influencers. You pay money, you get promoted."
Social media expert Nikhil Kale from No One Cares, adds, “Nowadays social media users get influenced by the comment that gets more replies and likes but no one cross-checks the details of the comment as they blindly believe the same and forward the same to their loved ones. If someone comes out with the truth, people still reply to them with the same false details and get them influenced by the same method the first person did this. That’s how reviews and fake comments work online.”
Fake reviews even have a detrimental effect on the business of the seller. Natasha Jain, CEO and Co-founder of Bent Chair, who sells products via e-commerce, recalls one such experience. She shares, “Recently, a customer approached us after one year of delivery. The person claimed that we had delivered damaged products and due to some family emergency the products were not checked at the time of delivery. After complaining in-person, pictures of the products were posted on Instagram trying to seek attention. Usually, the customer needs to report to us within 24-48 hours after delivery for any concerns and the in-house team take care of the damages. But after one year of delivery, if an individual complains, there is very little that a company can do. Despite the vague complain and social-media posting, Bent Chair initiated repair of the products. Over the past few months, we have discovered that people often desire free of charge repairs and start to complain.”
In fact, Jain goes on to call this one of the major drawbacks of the digital era of retails. She also shares, “In today’s age, when most people believe in online shopping and consider product reviews before purchasing anything, fake-yet-bad reviews create a hurdle for existing as well as new users. In this case, an upfront revert from the management team comes to the rescue. An appropriate reply truly helps people in discerning the comments.”
Global and large-scale platforms have also been doing their part to weed out the problem. For instance, Amazon had launched Project Zero earlier this year as an initiative to tackle counterfeit products, which are, obviously, accompanied by fake reviews. In fact, a brand new tool also helps most of the sellers automatically remove the list of items without any need of the counterfeiting brand's intervention.
Similarly Brad Young, VP, Associate General Counsel, TripAdvisor, had expressed support on behalf of the travel platform for a fraudster reviewer, who sold fake review packages, being jailed in Italy. The company had said that they "invest a lot in fraud prevention and we’re successful at tackling it," to the tune of stopping 60 review fraudster company since 2015.
From the fake reviewers point of view, they may knowingly or unknowingly get involved in such activities because of lack of awareness about the grave consequences of posting a fake review. If the psyche of these reviewers can be altered to some extent and they are made aware of the circumstance and the type of crime they are committing on a daily basis, there is a possibility that the existence of these fake reviewers/organisations will decrease on a large scale.
Other than this, as per Anuja, some things can be done to tackle this situation: once many people become aware, they can point out the false reviews or news that they see online. The social media experts, on the other hand, place great importance on the power of research: just keep looking at the product on multiple sites, try to identify indicators of paid productions, and be a smart netizen.