Seeking Authenticity in Online Customer Reviews

By Sara Spivey, Bazaarvoice

With the holiday shopping season just three months away, it's the perfect time to clean and refresh your website and digital content particularly when it comes to material not created by you.

With recent news about how bogus product reviews are becoming more prevalent and the fact that companies like Yelp and Amazon are suing those selling for creating fake reviews, it's time for us all to do some serious online housekeeping to help create an online experience shoppers can trust.

Seven in ten consumers are questioning the authenticity of online reviews, while 90 percent of shoppers say their buying decisions are influenced by them according to internal research. That's a significant majority of the general public who want (and deserve) to trust the content they find plastered across brand and retailer sites. As an industry, it's our job to ensure that we are providing that authentic shopping environment. Therefore, we must continue to remind companies, brands and retailers how important trust and authenticity are to consumers when it comes to our ever-increasing online presence. So, why is consumer confidence so important?

When people shop for a product or service, they aren't just looking to buy something they want or need; they are looking for an experience that is honest, transparent and personal.

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Authenticity and trust are among the few constants that help businesses inspire people and create valuable, lasting relationships with the same consumers who one day may also become their advocates. The minute that trust is eroded through fraudulent site content, the entire system breaks down - not just in a single brand environment, but across the industry. It's our job to be better gatekeepers.

With the growth of consumer-generated content (CGC) - ratings, reviews, questions and answers, photos, videos and social posts - we have an incredible opportunity to provide consumers with a wealth of honest opinions from like-minded shoppers that help them make more informed buying decisions. More than that, CGC gives everyone an equal voice online, but with that unlimited access and freedom, there's also the unfortunate side effect that fraudulent content is also on the rise.

It was discovered that 71 percent of consumers now read reviews before making online purchases. It was also found that 44 percent of those consumers would be more trusting of reviews that offered a "trust mark" and added a description of a company's anti-fraud policies.

As consumers make decisions along their shopping journey, they need to trust what they read. There are a number of ways to reassure site visitors that a brand has taken the utmost care in protecting the authenticity of their reviews, while continuing to gain their trust. But how exactly do you ensure that site content is authentic? Companies can start by sending review request emails to verified purchasers as a way to collect authentic content, use third-party technologies (like device recognition and reputation technologies that go beyond the usual IP address recognition and geo-location filters) to analyze device usage patterns, take advantage of advanced algorithms, rules and audits that flag what might be suspicious and, finally, employ a team of actual human fraud analysts to make final determinations on what is authentic. Beyond those initial ongoing steps, here are four key ways to protect both the authentic voices of consumers as well as a brand:


Eighty-one percent of U.S. consumers said they would feel more comfortable if online reviews were captured, monitored and displayed by a neutral and credible third party and 55 percent would trust reviews that had been through a technology filter and human analysis. Use a variety of verification technology tools to ensure content is coming from real people who have first-hand experience of the product. Review suspicious content with a team of human moderators who can help identify fraudulent behavior (a third-party vendor can help do this for brands as well).


Resist the urge to alter, edit or correct verified content in any way so it remains completely authentic and transparent (e.g., no edits to shorten or correct grammar or spelling errors). While grammar and spelling mistakes in reviews may seem frustrating, they actually help build authenticity in the eyes of the consumer.


Maintain transparency overall. Disclose online if a financial benefit, coupon or other incentive was provided to the reviewer in exchange for the review.


Brands will want to clearly articulate their commitment to authenticity and zero-tolerance for fraudulent or unethical content and advocate that all companies and competitors do the same. See guidelines set by WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association) in the U.S. or AFNOR in France as a guide. Companies can go even a step further by posting a trust mark on the site that serves as a visible and constant reminder of the brand's commitment to honest, transparent and authentic content.

Though no system is completely bulletproof, approaching reviews and an online presence with these four tactics will help enterprises clean off the dust that might have accumulated from years of unmoderated consumer generated content, as well as give them a chance to establish stronger relationships with the actual consumers and reviewers who are already engaged fans and involved advocates for their product or service.

Refreshing review strategies is an annual process that will benefit companies for years to come. Now who wants to grab the metaphorical broom?

Sara Spivey is the CMO at Bazaarvoice, where she brings 30 years of marketing, strategy and leadership experience. She is responsible for overall leadership of Bazaarvoice's global marketing programs, including demand generation, solutions marketing, brand strategy and communications.

This article, which appeared in the August 2016 issue of Website Magazine, is a modified version of one previously published at