Think pet food reviews are legit? Think again.

In today’s fierce online marketplace, where your competition is a click away, businesses are buying good reviews. For as little as $2 a star, a retailer can get a 5-star review. Consumer reviews, once considered the Holy Grail of advertising, advice given by shoppers not companies, is now no longer the trusted source for authentic unbiased opinions it once was.

“Advertising disguised as editorial is an old problem, but it’s now presenting itself in different ways,” said Mary K. Engle, the Federal Trade Commission’s (F.T.C.) associate director for advertising practices “We’re very concerned”, she stated in an article exposing the issue in the New York Times.

In an increasingly competitive market where many consumers depend on reviews for what to buy and where to go, a lucrative and deceptive practice has emerged where advertisers game the system by planting 5-star reviews. Some reviews are planted by the sellers themselves by anonymously posting their own laudatory reviews, but wow there is another approach.

Sellers offer customers a refund for the product in exchange for a write-up. And as fast as their fingers can do the typing, consumers are cashing in on writing rave reviews. Retailers are only too happy to invest in good fake reviews, because top ratings are as valuable as gold dust in the savagely competitive online marketplace where a competitor’s product is just a click away.

Even though under F.T.C. rules when there is a connection between a merchant and someone promoting its product that affects the endorsement’s credibility, it must be fully disclosed. While it is a good law, it is one that is rarely enforced in a limitless landscape as vast as the internet.

How can consumers tell a legit thumbs up from a bogus endorsement? There are several things to consider when evaluating information. Here are several tips:

  • Pay attention to the quality of the reviews: Are they lengthy, detailed, and varied or do they sound as if they are canned and scripted.
  • Is there an extraordinary number of glowing and effusive reviews to negative reviews?
  • Consider the source of the information: Are the reviews from consumers on online shopping sites?
  • Or, are the reviews based on a thorough research by a credible journalist who has nothing to gain from a recommendation or an endorsement.
  • Is the reviewer affiliated with the product in any way?
  • Finally, you can always assume that if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

Then there are the trolls, the perpetually disgruntled who work the competition by bashing them and their products. No one knows if they are paid for their work, but I suspect they happily do it just for the fun of it.

SOURCE: For $2 a Star, an Online Retailer Gets 5-Star Product Reviews

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Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, the author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and consumer advisor. Help support her work by making a donation today.

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