Fake reviews can mislead people into choosing poor-quality products, BEUC member Which? reveals



A behavioural experiment by UK consumer group Which? simulated fake reviews and endorsement labels. They found these to be hugely effective at manipulating consumers into picking poor quality products.

Which? asked almost 10,000 people to complete a shopping task using images designed to look like the website of the UK’s largest online shopping platform. The pages and content that were shown to participants were not real content.

Participants were asked to pick one of three product types, headphones, dash cams or cordless vacuum cleaners, where Which? had previously found evidence of fake reviews. They could then choose from a Which? Best Buy, three ‘fillers’ with mediocre reviews and a Don’t Buy [1] which may or may not have been manipulated by fake reviews.

The respondents were randomly allocated into groups to determine the type of fake review activity they would see, varying from inflated star ratings to fake review text as well as the addition of a platform endorsement label, which can often be influenced by high review ratings.

Which?’s findings show how fake review activity misleads people into picking products it considers ‘Don’t Buy’: 

  •     No fake reviews shown: 10.5% choose a Don’t Buy product
  •     Inflated star ratings added: 16.3% choose a Don’t Buy product
  •     Inflated star ratings and fake review text added: 23.1% choose a Don’t Buy product
  •     Inflated star ratings, fake review text and platform endorsement label added: 24.8% choose a Don’t Buy product

The consumer group also revealed that a warning banner about the possible presence of fake reviews still led to 19% of participants choosing a Don’t Buy product. 

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[1] A ‘Don’t Buy’ product is one that Which?’s independent lab tests have found to be of such poor quality that they should be avoided at all costs.