Today we explore online reviews and endorsements and how they influence buyer choices and to what extent buyer choices are likely to be distorted. Not too many years ago, most people shopped everything in their local stores. Even when online shopping was available, most people felt uncomfortable using their credit cards and giving their personal information to cyber-shops. The trend is however changing throughout the world. Online buying has grown exponentially. Though consumers are still concerned about the security of online shopping, more and more of them are prepared to buy on the web.
According to the English Oxford dictionary, an endorsement is defined as the act of giving your approval or recommendation to something, usually in a public manner. It is a positive comment about a product, service or business, which appears to the reader or viewer to be the writer’s/speaker’s own opinion and or experience. An example could be when a famous athlete announces that he wears a certain brand of sneakers, this is an example of an endorsement for the sneaker brand. It can also be said to be a statement endorsing a person, product such as in an advertisement. It is the act of publicly saying that you like or use a product or service in exchange for money. On the other hand, a review is simply a consumer’s opinion or experience of a product, service or business.
At first value, endorsements and reviews have potential benefits such as when consumers buy goods or services whose quality they may find hard to assess before it has been experienced. The information provided by reviews and endorsements can help consumers to make faster and more confident decisions. Furthermore, as consumers demand more robust online shopping experiences, it is no longer enough to provide only basic product descriptions and a handful of images. Potential buyers are now interested in browsing through reviews and endorsements of products before purchasing. This however is much possible where the person reviewing or endorsing has provided all the necessary information about the product or service.
While recognizing the real and potential benefits of endorsements and reviews, these tools also have the potential to mislead consumers and distort buyer decisions. This could happen in the following ways that are discussed and highlighted in the next paragraphs.
Some businesses or individuals can write fake positive reviews about themselves while disguising to be consumers so that they boost their ratings on review sites relative to their rivals. These reviews may mislead consumers about the merits of a product or service, and may subsequently lead to rival suppliers losing customers that they otherwise may have won. Further, some businesses or individuals might write or commission fake negative reviews. This is mainly done by businesses trying to undermine their rivals or by individuals acting maliciously or acting for personal gain. This practice affects consumers’ choices.
Some review sites may only display positive reviews while suppressing negative reviews that they collect or that have been displayed, and this being done without making it clear to readers that they are presenting a selection of positive reviews only. This omission of other consumers’ negative views is likely to present a false overall impression of consumers’ experiences of using a product or service. Some of the omitted negative reviews may be genuine. This has the potential to mislead users of a review site and affect their choices. This is also likely to affect businesses that publish both positive and negative reviews and lead to loss.
Some businesses might also be engaging in the offer of inducements such as money or gifts to customers to write positive reviews about their business. This is likely to present a false picture of a product or service altogether and be misleading to consumers.
When it comes to endorsements, it is highly likely that some businesses might pay celebrities or any other personality to endorse their product or service. However, even when somebody is paid to endorse a product or service, it matters less if the information they are providing is true, relevant and informative. This however does not deal with all the fears consumers need to have concerning endorsements.
For consumers who are actively engaged in online shopping, it is important to protect yourself from falling victim of fake online reviews and endorsements. A few things to do including consulting multiple sources in order to determine which reviews are legitimate. You also can search for reviews over a wide range of time. Try at most instances to disregard the highest and lowest ratings, and concentrate mainly on what people in the middle are saying for a more accurate assessment. Finally, online reviews should only be one step in researching a product or service and take all feedback online with a grain of salt.