Catch­ing those bo­gus re­view­ers...

Consumer Voice - - Editor's Voice - Padma Ed­i­tor

Un­til a few years ago, for high-value pur­chases like mo­tor­bikes, tele­vi­sions, wash­ing ma­chines, and re­frig­er­a­tors, some­body else’s opin­ion and en­dorse­ment were a must for most house­holds. It was all about that call to a know-it-all un­cle, a teatime dis­cus­sion with a neigh­bour, or a trunk call to a smart aunt in a metro city for opin­ion, sug­ges­tion, ad­vice, feed­back, or re­view.

Things are chang­ing, though, and how. Smart un­cles, in­tel­li­gent aunts, and savvy friends have been re­placed by ex­pert blog­gers, Face­book com­mu­ni­ties, and ‘real’ re­view­ers who share their ex­pe­ri­ences as well as re­view the pros and cons of prod­ucts in real time, in the pub­lic do­main, for any­body to read the same.

Hun­dreds of re­searches by dozens of cred­i­ble or­gan­i­sa­tions say that more than the num­ber of on­line shop­pers, the num­ber of on­line win­dow shop­pers, prod­uct com­par­ers and re­view read­ers is in­creas­ing. Be­fore buy­ing an ac­tual prod­uct, al­most ev­ery in­di­vid­ual with even a lit­tle knowl­edge of the In­ter­net goes on­line to com­pare fea­tures, prices, and pros and cons of sim­i­lar prod­ucts from dif­fer­ent mak­ers. In most cases, they go with the one that has got good re­views and rat­ings by real buy­ers. In some cases, a cheaper prod­uct with sup­pos­edly bet­ter fea­tures is turned down by a cus­tomer if it has been neg­a­tively re­viewed by pre­vi­ous buy­ers.

How­ever, the In­ter­net re­tail­ers are smart and prod­uct man­u­fac­tur­ers are smarter. I re­cently found out that of 10 prod­uct re­views/com­ments that one reads on­line, there is a pos­si­bil­ity that two to four of them have been posted by the same per­son with ‘fake’ on­line iden­ti­ties as he or she has been hired by the prod­uct man­u­fac­turer or the re­tailer to do so. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, the same re­viewer or bo­gus iden­tity could be writ­ing bad re­views about com­peti­tors. In this sup­pos­edly dig­i­tal age, where there is a term even for the act of click­ing your own photo, I am sur­prised at not be­ing able to find any word that best de­scribes th­ese un­eth­i­cal, bo­gus re­view­ers. How about coin­ing one of our own? ‘Re­tail trolls’ maybe? We can de­scribe them as oth­er­wise good-for-noth­ing peo­ple who are paid to write (no, they aren’t writ­ers; they only copy and paste the con­tent given to them by their PR bosses, who are no writ­ers them­selves).

For me, they are crim­i­nals who are fool­ing in­no­cent cus­tomers into buy­ing not-so-good prod­ucts by ap­pre­ci­at­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence that they never had. More­over, when they write a fake re­view, the real re­view of a gen­uine buyer goes way down the re­view page, min­imis­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of it be­ing read by a new buyer.

Now, how do we pin down them re­tail trolls? That’s quite easy, thank­fully. Just that you need to give a few min­utes’ time to the ex­er­cise. The num­ber of on­line buy­ers, in­clud­ing you and me, are way more than the re­tail trolls. They get away with what they do be­cause most of you do not re­view, share feed­back, or com­ment about your pur­chase in the pub­lic do­main.

Also, when you go on­line to read re­views, do not trust all re­view­ers. Go a step fur­ther and try read­ing a few more re­views of dif­fer­ent prod­ucts by the same re­viewer. If you see a pat­tern, es­pe­cially the use of flow­ery PRish lan­guage, you will know who it is. More­over, it is bet­ter to be­lieve in a com­ment of a per­son who posted it via Face­book, Google, Twit­ter, or other so­cial me­dia ac­counts where their pro­files are ac­ces­si­ble and one can make out who they are.

Last but not the least – if you ac­tu­ally catch one such fake re­viewer, flag him, re­port him to the con­cerned web­site or re­tailer, and maybe share the ex­pe­ri­ence with us too. We may pub­lish it in the next is­sue.

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