Under Review: Can Online Opinion Be Trusted?


More than three-quarters (78 percent) of U.S. Internet users aged 18 to 64 say that online reviews help them make purchase decisions, according to an Ipsos survey released in December. Within these results, women are more likely than men to “very much agree” that online product reviews assist in making purchase decisions (38 percent vs. 26 percent). The younger the consumer, the more likely they are to “somewhat” or “very much” rely on reviews; those with higher incomes and educational levels also tend to look at reviews more. And the influence of reviews extends to retail, according to AYTM Market Research, with nearly 70 percent of U.S. Internet users saying they sometimes compare prices or read reviews before visiting a brick-and-mortar store.


While concerns exist that up to 30 percent of online user reviews may be fabricated, consumer trust in them is slowly building, says a Search Engine Land survey of users in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.; overall trust in user reviews increased 3 percent from 2010 to 2012. That trust has its limits, though, with respondents subjecting online reviews to a subtle sniff test based on factors such as the number of reviews posted at a site, the type of business publicizing the reviews, and correct spelling and grammar. Many sites use fraud-detection platforms to ward off fake reviews, but companies vary in their approach to user-generated content and its display. Since the existence of more reviews increases trust, building a critical mass is important—so marketers that post online reviews should approach (satisfied) buyers and ask them about their experiences.