CUSTOMER REVIEWS: Data suggests there has been a huge rise in fake reviews.

NEWS that fake reviews for products sold on Amazon’s Marketplace are being sold online ‘in bulk’ isn’t surprising. The consumer group Which? found websites selling fake reviews from £5 each and incentivising positive reviews in exchange for payment or free products. Which? even caught UK businesses  buying five-star Google reviews in its own recent ‘sting’ operation.

But fake reviews have been a problem on eBay, Facebook, Amazon and TripAdvisor for years. Data suggest a huge rise in fake reviews during the first lockdown.

With Italy’s antitrust authority fining TripAdvisor €500,000 over its ‘defamatory’ hotel reviews, maybe it’s time to take stock of some of its highs and lows.

First off, there were the threats from some in the travel industry. Like the Broadway Hotel, Blackpool, that charged a couple £100 after posting a critical review describing it as a ‘filthy, dirty rotten stinking hovel run by muppets.’ (Only to be surpassed by New York’s Union Street Guest House’s surcharge of $500 for negative reviews.)

Naturally, this backfired spectacularly for both hotels with numerous mocking reviews on TripAdvisor. Don’t you just love it when bad businesses blame the customer and, instead of fixing the problem, get uppity when the ensuing firestorm of bad publicity erupts? You have to give them five out of five for canniness.

The BBC should have sent a production crew up to Blackpool to do a remake of Fawlty Towers. Script not needed. Can’t you just picture Basil scrolling through his TripAdvisor reviews!

TripAdvisor never ceases to amuse. From the fake reviews of the non-existent Brixham restaurant Oscar’s, and spoof reviews (the Inn, Bethlehem and the Grand Budapest Hotel, Republic of Zubrowka) to the ‘alarmingly prolific’ reviewers on its Chinese website.

Now, I know all businesses are having a really rough time in this pandemic but so are consumers. So, wouldn’t it be in everyone’s best interests to treat all websites with more care – and caution?

PS. I’ll certainly be recommending this unbiased article! Five stars!

Warning: this column may not be written by a real person.

Nora Johnson’s psychological crime thrillers ‘No Safe Place’, ‘Betrayal’, ‘The Girl in the Woods’, ‘The Girl in the Red Dress’, ‘No Way Back’, ‘Landscape of Lies’, ‘Retribution’, ‘Soul Stealer’, ‘The De Clerambault Code’ ( available online as eBook (€0.99; £0.99), Apple Books, paperback and audiobook. All profits to Costa del Sol Cudeca cancer charity.  

Nora Johnson’s opinions are his own and are not necessarily representative of those of the publishers, advertisers or sponsors.

Written by

Nora Johnson

Novelist Nora Johnson offers insights on everything from current affairs to life in Spain, with humour and a keen eye for detail.