You probably won't be shocked to learn that some user reviews are actually written by manufacturers' employees.
The latest culprit is DeLonghi; one of its communications managers posted a dozen positive reviews for DeLonghi products, including espresso makers, at Amazon.com, as reported in The Wall Street Journal. Furthermore, the company doesn't really see anything wrong with this, judging by their statement to The Journal.
We know fake reviews are out there, so how can you be sure you're reading a real user review rather than a planted review written by a manufacturer or retailer? ConsumerSearch editors have become experts at spotting fake reviews, and you can do it too. Here are some tips we've learned from scrutinizing thousands of user ratings:
Ignore the raves. Reviews that are 100% positive aren't really that helpful. We think every product has some drawbacks, even if they are small.
Check out the 3-star and 4-star reviews first. These are usually people who are mostly happy but have some concerns. This is where you'll usually find the most balance. Look for "real life" stories. A comment like "This is the best food processor I've ever used!" is much less helpful than a statement like "This food processor is much better than my old model at kneading my sourdough bread recipe."
If you're suspicious, turn to Google. We've found that fake reviewers often post the same review on more than one website. Try copying a sentence from the iffy review and pasting it into the Google search box. Although the controversial reviews for DeLonghi have been removed from Amazon.com, we found the exact same review also posted on Epinions.
Blogs are a whole other patch of quicksand. There's no code of ethics for bloggers unless the site adopts its own set of values and states them to the reader. Bloggers are free to accept freebies from manufacturers, and can write anything they want. Furthermore, bloggers often don't disclose how they acquired the products they've reviewed, or whether they were paid to write about a product. Some of the same tips work for blog reviews as user reviews:
Look for balance. Does the blogger outline both pros and cons? Does he or she compare the product to others? In the same way, if the blogger gives every product a rave, that doesn't speak to credibility.
Check out the blog's "About Us" page. Check for a statement outlining the site's ethics. Look for assurances that the blogger is providing an unbiased review. Sure, and unethical blogger could ignore their own statements of impartiality, but a written statement does add to credibility.
Has the blogger really tested the product? Look for statements that result from real testing, such as remarks on ease of use, durability, completeness of the user manual, and customer service.
At least one group of bloggers is banding together to create some transparency and combat scammers writing fake blogs. As reported by CNN, so-called "Mommy bloggers" are working to introduce a "simple code of blogging conduct;" Blog with Integrity offers bloggers a chance to pledge "clear disclosure of our interests." To date, more than 1,250 bloggers have signed the pledge.
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