Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Choke Off Phony Store Reviews

In the early days of American retailing, unscrupulous stores hired professional rumormongers to propagate poison about competitors. Laws and codes of business ethics curbed that behavior. We now have an enhanced version, though.
     Yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle reports that:
  • The California Attorney General’s office is considering actions to combat fake online reviews of retailers. 
  • The New York Attorney General’s office wrung $350,000 in fines from a total of nineteen companies which were offering phony reviews for hire. 
  • The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has ordered that if someone is compensated for posting a review of a business, the arrangement must be disclosed. 
     Through direct contacts with legislators and your retailer association activities, lobby to choke off phony store reviews. The negatives as well as the positives. Of your competitors as well as of you.
     Regularly peruse rating boards to see what’s being said. Professors at University of Southern California, Dartmouth College, and Yale University used a database of 2,931 ratings of U.S. hotels to develop signals of chicanery:
  • Compared to faked reviews of hotels, the genuine ones use more concrete words, such as “bathroom” and “check-in,” and fewer context-setting phrases, like, “it was our vacation,” and “my husband asked why.” 
  • The review sites that require people to register as customers are more likely to have accurate reviews. A related point is that, according to Stanford University researchers, a review is more effective when the reviewer identifies herself, qualifies herself as an expert and then presents the conclusions with a bit of uncertainty. One way for a reviewer to qualify herself as an expert is to give specific points of comparison of the product with alternatives which would fulfill an equivalent function. 
  • With hotels, check the details against your records, such as to see if a party of the size mentioned in the review did stay with you. Other types of retailers will have different types of details to check. If the reviewer is identified, make contact to get details. If there’s no identification, and if the review site allows you to do so, leave a posting asking for details. 
     However, writing rebuttals isn’t enough. When using sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, Citysearch, Google, and Yahoo, which all aim for high numbers of ratings, consumers don’t read through them all. Instead, they attribute great importance to the average star rating. The phony ding, but not your rebuttal, will be reflected in that.

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Take Consumer Feedback for What It’s Worth

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