How Big a Problem is Fake Reviews and What Can Consumers Do to Avoid Them?

By now, we are all aware that there are less scrupulous businesses that post fake reviews, but what you may not be aware of is just how prolific fake reviews are. A recent article (Nov 6th 2019) by BrightLocal cites the following statistics:

• 74% of consumers have read a fake review in the last year
• 89% of 18-34-year-olds have read a fake review in the last year
• One in seven TripAdvisor reviews could be fake
• 61% of electronics reviews on Amazon are fake
• 55,000 fake reviews are generated on Facebook per month
• UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) estimates fake reviews potentially influence £23bn of UK customer spending each year

Fake reviews are a serious problem not only for consumers but also honest businesses, and there is not an effective way for review platforms to combat them.

What can we do as consumers?

Review platforms and business competitors will tell you to report suspicious reviews to the host platforms, and the platforms would punish or ban businesses that purchase reviews. However, fake reviewers are getting more savvy, and it is not easy to spot them. If they were easy to spot, then the statistics shown above would not be so pervasive.

Of course, one solution is getting recommendations from people you can trust. For one, this will effectively eliminate the concern of fake reviews, and, if enough people are avoiding ratings from the general public, fake reviewers would be in less demand. Businesses would then be able to focus on good old fashioned customer service to get their customers to tell their friends.

But for most of us, we do not know enough people to get sufficient coverage of all the types of places and products we would like to get recommendations for. For example, what if you wanted to find a good, authentic Korean restaurant in Hong Kong? What are the chances your friends, accessible to you now, know most of the Korean restaurants in Hong Kong? Chances are they know a few Korean restaurants and perhaps one they consider authentic, but there could be others that are better. Our immediate circle of friends generally does not have first-hand experience at a sufficient number of establishments for us to feel that we would get comparably-good recommendations.

We believe the answer is in participating in a trusted community where you can share recommendations.

Asking community members for recommendations is evidently effective. Just look at Facebook Groups, Reddit, and Quora to name a few. Asking community members enables users to get more trustworthy recommendations as members of a community are not anonymous – instead most communities require invitations to join – and there are usually large numbers of members in communities. Further, communities tend to attract members who share similar interests, values and lifestyles. Therefore, recommendations from members of the same community tend to be naturally aligned with the requester’s interests, values and lifestyle.  

We created the Bumping App so that we can feel safer about recommendations. The Bumping App fosters communities of like-minded people to share recommendations on places, services and products, and curates the recommendations so that finding what you are looking for and discovering things and places that interests you are trustworthy, easy and fun. 

With Google at our finger tips, why do we still ask our friends for recommendations?

Why do we prefer asking our friends for recommendations when review apps like Google, Amazon, OpenRice, TripAdvisor, and Yelp are widely adopted?

I do not think it is for fear of fake reviews. I mean, we should be weary of fake reviews – there certainly is a proliferation of fake reviews – but, at least for me, that is not the primary reason why I ask my friends for recommendations. Right or wrong, when I see ratings from thousands of reviewers, I feel quite safe that the average rating is trustworthy. So then, what other reasons are there for why we ask rather than search?

I believe there are four reasons why I still ask my friends for recommendations:

The first is that we are not all alike. My interests, values, and lifestyles – my psychographics – are likely different than say a young teenager’s. What one person likes does not mean others will like the same thing. When I see thousands of reviewers giving high ratings to a particular restaurant, I still need to read the reviews to get some assurance that a like minded individual finds the restaurant good, because the thousands of reviewers could all be tourists with different tastes from mine. 

Second, I often find myself looking for something specific based on how I feel or on my needs at the time. For example, I might be looking for a vacuum cleaner that can be serviced in Hong Kong that is good for cleaning carpets in households with yet-to-be potty-trained puppies. I might be looking for a dentist who is good with kids. When my request is this specific, I do have to ask my friends or end up calling a whole bunch of places to ask them. 

Third, not all business types get reviews. I find that social establishments like restaurants and tourist locations get a lot of reviewers whereas less sociable establishments like dentists, doctors, plumbers, faucet retailers do not receive many reviews if at all. Again, for these businesses, I end up having to ask friends and family. 

Lastly, there is a lot of information out there (perhaps not for non-social businesses), and trying to sift through all of them simply is not possible for someone with very little patience like myself. I rely on others whom I trust to curate this information for me.

Well, in short, I think recommendations are more trustworthy, more suitable, more relevant and easier to get when we ask a friend for them. Sounds obvious? Yet, I can’t help but wonder in this day and age with data abound, ubiquitous access to mobile computers, artificial intelligence, and behavioral tracking software, why do we still resort to asking friends for recommendations? Why has not technology provided a solution that addresses the above issues? I guess it is not that big of an issue if you had a lot of friends who are always available to give you recommendations, but for me that unfortunately is not the case.

I started this journey of trying to solve this issue several years ago when I ordered a generous amount products from a bathroom supply retailer. I was renovating my apartment, and needed a bathtub, faucets, sinks, etc. I put a 50% downpayment and expected the products to be delivered shortly. Months went by and no delivery. I called. I went to the store. I complained and complained. Many, many times over a period of several months. The retail store staff said it is not her fault, she sent the order to the manager. The manager said it is not her fault, the brand supplier was not delivering, and so forth. (I learned a Chinese saying then which translates to “pulling a cat’s tail”.) At the end, finally after much delay in the renovation and plenty of frustration, the products were delivered. The store staff finally admitted that it was her manager who for some reason did not want to send out the products (probably for cashflow reasons).

After that experience I really wanted to give some serious feedback to the public about the store, but there is no active BBB in Hong Kong and Yelp was not widely used in Hong Kong at the time. Google Place reviews were not yet around either. I had no recourse, and that experience is how I have come up the Bumping App today. 

The Bumping App is a tool that curates recommendations from individuals with similar interests, values and lifestyle as your own, and provides them to you when you need them. I believe it addresses all the concerns I listed above about why we still ask our friends. Give it a try and let me know what you think!