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4 Things every business owner should know about the state of reviews

Monday, March 16, 2020
the role of reviews in internet trust

In today’s ‘fake news’ culture, consumers are having more and more trouble identifying who or what to trust. This year, we observed an 11% decline in trust globally, with 29% of people admitting they don’t trust consumer brands.

The trust deficit we’re observing is encouraging people to rely on recommendations from their peers more than ever before, and open review platforms are fast becoming one of the most popular and reliable tools for consumers to consult as part of their decision-making journey.

Social Proof might be a concept as old as marketing itself, but the lack of trust in institutions has significantly enhanced the effectiveness of social proof as we know it today. Any comments about you, your business or your product are considered ‘social proof’. The very presence of social proof such as reviews, should, by definition, make a business more trustworthy, as today’s consumers trust other consumers more than they trust businesses themselves. But not all social proof is equal: the way it is shared or managed by businesses can have a serious impact on the level of trust consumers put into it.

To find out more about the current state of reviews and how different types of reviews can generate and damage consumer trust, Trustpilot recently commissioned behavioural insights and research agency Canvas8. The report draws from a survey of over six thousand respondents in the US, UK and France and interviews with two academic thought leaders on the topic of trust and the internet.

The finished product looks into how social proof and reviews play a role in Internet trust, and what consumers are really looking for in reviews and review platforms.

Ready to dive in?

Here are some of the report’s highlights.

4 Things you didn’t know about how consumers perceive reviews

1. Reviews are one of the most trusted forms of social proof

As people are slowly losing faith in all mainstream news media, education systems, or political parties, they’re increasingly turning to their peers to get trustworthy and transparent information.

Indeed, today, 89% of global consumers check online reviews as part of their online buying journey, and 49% of global consumers consider positive reviews one of their top 3 purchase influences.

Consumer reviews, and popular opinion in general, sum up the wisdom of the general population and serve it as a means of collective intelligence, giving shape and structure to the wealth of information out there. Reviews open up a world of possibilities: they help consumers make smarter choices and are instrumental to helping build trust between consumers and businesses. Because of that, review websites now rank second as most trusted by consumers in the United Kingdom to provide consumers with an honest opinion about a company, a good, or a service.

Social proof is becoming increasingly effective, and today, almost half of UK consumers are relying more on online reviews than they have in the past 2 years.

2. Consumers prefer to leave reviews in an open and transparent way

Review sites are slowly becoming a natural part of the customer buying journey, but even though review platforms are more trusted than traditional institutions, not all review platforms inspire the same levels of trust.

In 2020, 55% of consumers would prefer to use an open and transparent review platform. On an open platform, anyone is free to write a review as long as they comply with the guidelines set out by the platform.

Indeed, we found that, to consumers, the notion of companies being able to remove negative or unflattering feedback is completely unacceptable. In fact, in the UK, 56% of consumers think it’s very important to know exactly how review websites choose to publish reviews, and whether or not they choose to cherry-pick.

Open platforms are key to ensuring your business builds trusted relationships with its customers, as they enable freedom of speech and empower consumers more.

3. People seek authenticity, not perfection

Did you know that 49% of consumers believe many dishonest brands are guilty of manipulating customer reviews to improve their reputation?

Today, most people are suspicious of perfect companies with perfect reputations. No matter how well your business is doing, there is always room for improvement.

Over half of consumers believe that a less than perfect review score is more authentic, and 45% of consumers would prefer to buy a product or service with a large number of reviews and an average rating overall, rather than to buy a product or service with a small number of reviews and a high rating overall.

Yes, review quantity does matter. But consumers are also looking to engage with businesses who spend their time fixing their customers’ issues, rather than hiding them.

Indeed, 82% of UK consumers have a positive view towards companies that respond to reviews, and 64% of global consumers would prefer to buy from a responsive company over one that appears perfect.

In 2020, understanding consumers' needs and wants has become essential to ensure any company is future-proof. Listening empowers businesses to learn from, and talk to, their customers in order to create better experiences and offer honesty and authenticity.

Transparent and trustworthy businesses should be able to display all feedback - good and bad - on their websites. Mistakes are sometimes unavoidable, and consumers understand that. If a company recognises its mistakes and fixes them, customers are more likely to engage with it than with a competitor who cherry-picks its reviews.

In fact, 53% of global consumers admit wanting to read a realistic mix of positive and negative reviews when making an online purchase.

Authenticity and transparency are two of the most important things customers seek for when looking for third-party validation, and they shouldn’t be overlooked.

4. Review censorship is not tolerated by consumers

Today’s consumers are strongly against censorship: 70% of global consumers believe that the censorship of customer reviews is a serious concern, and 62% of global consumers would stop using platforms if they knew they were censoring reviews.

Indeed, consumers see review manipulation as a breach of trust and are ready to take their business elsewhere if they find out a platform allows companies to cherry-pick their reviews.

With 45% of consumers believing that review censorship leads to wasted money, and 42% believing it damages freedom of speech, review manipulation has become a very risky practice as today’s shoppers expect openness, honesty, transparency and authenticity from the review platforms and brands they engage with.

All reviews, whether good or bad, should always be displayed. Being as transparent as possible helps consumers make more informed decisions, and helps boost consumer trust in businesses.

If you’d like to find out more about the critical role of reviews in Internet trust, download our newest report below.

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