Business owners who gripe about online review sites usually bring up the issue of fake reviews; reviews by competitors or disgruntled employees; or even random trolls who disparage the business. Sometimes they can be easy to spot, but they are often hard to distinguish from real reviews. Even Yelp, the most successful review sites, admits to a rate of 25% suspected fake reviews.
Reviews that are clearly truthful can also be problematic. Most of the time, the reader does not know the reviewer. It’s a complete stranger and their review is completely subjective. How can the reader know that this person is describing the situation accurately? How can the reader assume one reviewer’s tastes and standards are similar to theirs?
If so many reviews are not trustworthy, then why do consumers trust them? There are several psychological effects at work here:
1. Validation – The mere existence of even a few reviews signals the validity of the business. It shows prospective customers that others have considered and chose to become customers of this business. They are not alone in making this decision which makes prospective customers more comfortable about giving a business a chance.
2. Information bias– Any information is better than no information isn’t it? Well not if the information is inaccurate or false, yet many people find comfort in it and assign importance to information even if it’s irrelevant or misleading.
3. Bandwagon effect – This is also known as groupthink. Of course, consumers intellectually understand that reviewers may not be similar to them. However, due to the bandwagon effect, customers may decide that if a lot of people reviewed a place and thought similar things about it, they can’t all be wrong.
Here’s the funny thing, when we ask business owners if they ever use online reviews when making their consumer decisions, over 90% of them say YES. We’re all human after all…