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Online customer reviews – the skinny

online customer reviewsIn a past life, I sold cars for a living.

Our dealership relied heavily on customer reviews and our management team pushed us to get a Google review from every customer we worked with, regardless of whether or not they purchased a car.

The dealership revered these Google reviews so much that, if we suspected a customer was unhappy and would even consider giving us a negative review, we were to report it to management in the hopes they could rectify the situation.

On the surface, these customer reviews seem like a good idea—I mean, you have customers giving you their honest opinions about their experiences with this business or product.

And, if that were the case one hundred percent of the time, reviews would be all a prospect needed to make an informed buying decision.

But it’s not…

In 2022, fifty percent of consumers surveyed say they’re confident they read at least one fake Google review, and those numbers seem to be increasing.

Where do these fake reviews come from?

1. Disgruntled employees or angry customers

I had a customer once whose name was Jared. He was what we called a “dealership groupie,” because he was always coming around. If he wasn’t in the service department, he was on the sales floor talking with the staff. All the salesmen and management knew him.

“On the surface, these customer reviews seem like a good idea—I mean, you have customers giving you their honest opinions about their experiences with this business or product.”


He also knew how much we relied on Google reviews.

Jared purchased a new Chevy Silverado from me. A couple months later he Online customer reviews approached me and asked, “Hey I do get three free oil changes with my truck, right?”

He knew better, and even signed paperwork stating he understood his purchase included only one free oil change.

When I reminded him, he said, “Sure would look bad if I told Google you guys lied to me—guess I’ll have to do it, though.”

I reported the incident to management, and he got his free oil changes. But that’s not all…

One former employee, who had gotten fired, bragged that he had a couple of his friends write negative customer reviews about the dealership. To my knowledge, neither of these friends had ever even visited the dealership.

2. Paid customer reviews

In the US, it is perfectly legal to pay a person to write a review for you, as long as you are transparent about the fact that this is NOT an unsolicited endorsement from a real customer.

Companies who use paid reviews and try to pass them off as legitimate customer reviews, however, face severe penalties.

A company called Legacy Learning Systems learned this the hard way in 2011, when the FTC charged it with deceptively advertising its products using online affiliate marketers who pretended to be non-biased consumers. The company settled with the FTC for $250,000.

Legacy paid these affiliates substantial commissions for each referral that led to a sale. The FTC said these endorsements generated more than $5 million in revenue for Legacy.

More recently, the FTC began issuing warnings to businesses concerning fake reviews and other misleading endorsements. According to the FTC:

The rise of social media has blurred the line between authentic content and advertising, leading to an explosion in deceptive endorsements across the marketplace. Fake online reviews and other deceptive endorsements often tout products throughout the online world.

online customer reviewsEven giant online retailers like aren’t immune. In 2018, Business Insider reported some Amazon sellers are offering bribes to Amazon employees to obtain bad reviewers’ email addresses or to delete negative reviews entirely.

These bribes are reportedly at around $300 for each bad review taken down.

But there’s more…

The New York Post (5) reports that, for a mere $18, you can hire a Germany-based company to write as many reviews as you can afford. They also offer package deals–$846 for 50 reviews, and about $10,900 for 1,000 reviews.

3. Amazon Sniping

But what if, instead of using reviews to boost your own product or service, you used them to attack your competition? (6) This is a tactic known as “sniping,” and it’s a practice that is huge and still growing on Amazon.

When a merchant snipes, they hire people to leave critical reviews of their victim’s product, and then voting those reviews as being helpful. You can easily find freelancers in China and Bangladesh who will write these reviews for as little as $10 an hour.

A better way to leverage the power of social proof

All effective marketers agree that social proof is an essential part of any marketing strategy. What if there was a way to obtain that social proof that was immune to the whims of Amazon or Google, that couldn’t be touched by fake reviewers from overseas, and provided you with far more credibility and trust than any other marketing tool?

Customer case studies are just such tools. These evergreen business builders use a detailed story of one of your customers’ experience with your solution. This story describes a specific challenge your customer faced, and shows how this customer used your solution to achieve a desired business objective.

Editor’s note: Customer case studies are a time-tested and proven method to build trust in your products/services. Contact us to learn how we can help you put this powerful tool to work for you.

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