Online reviews are a goldmine for avid shoppers: whether you want to check the quality of a purchase, or make sure a service professional is really up to the job, being able to see the experiences of others can really help.
Unfortunately, less scrupulous companies have found ways to cheat the different review systems – with tactics ranging from paying a nominal amount for people to post false reviews on sites like Amazon, to creating fake accounts, to simply making up reviews entirely and posting them on their website or social media.
The government, urged on by consumer champions Which?, have now outlined proposals to make this type of practice illegal. The proposals would mean fines for those who write or host fake reviews, as well as a range of other measures to help people shop safely – including tighter regulations on how subscription services are advertised, fines for companies that use manipulative tactics to ‘upsell’ their products, and more protection for prepayment schemes such as Christmas savers clubs.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the proposal is all about creating confidence, for competitors as well as consumers, with the government “giving businesses confidence that they’re competing on fair terms, and the public confidence they’re getting a good deal”.
The new regulations will fall under the remit of the Competition and Markets Authority, who will have new powers to issue hefty fines – up to 10% of a company’s global turnover – and to potentially disqualify company directors or block company acquisitions.
This will be a fantastic shake-up for the online shopping market, and it can’t come soon enough. Unfortunately, though, there is still some way to go before the plans become a reality. With that in mind, here are a few things to consider and look out for when reading an online review:
- The most reliable reviews tend to be those from professionals, writing for dedicated review platforms (we’re thinking the likes of Tom’s Guide for tech reviews or Allure for health and beauty)
- When reading a review on social media, or sites like TrustPilot, consider the language that has been used. Reviewers don’t tend to write a sales pitch even if they’re happy with their experience, so reviews that seem to be trying to sell you something (or using buzz phrases from the company’s website) should be treated with caution.
- Look out for multiple reviews saying very similar things. Too many reviewers using the same phrases and complimenting the same aspects of a product or service may be a sign that the company has set up phony accounts.
- Read the negative reviews carefully. Somebody will always find something to complain about, so one or two bad reviews shouldn’t deter you from an otherwise decent purchase. However if the reviewers are complaining about something serious, or have uncovered a pattern of problems, then it’s worth listening to them.
Hopefully the government’s proposals will become a reality, and people will soon have more protection from dodgy business practices. In the meantime, remember to keep your wits about you when shopping online, and try to get reviews from trusted sources.