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Dirty Dancing and rotten reviews: how marketplaces are putting customers in a corner

In a recent exposé, it came to light that a 2017 TV version of Dirty Dancing currently shares the 4.5-star reviews of the original film on Amazon, despite being described by Hollywood Reporter as a “bloated” remake “that nobody asked for and nobody is likely to truly enjoy”.

Something has gone awry in the online marketplace. Customers can no longer be confident that the product they browse within the listings, and the product they actually pay for, are one and same.

The research found numerous examples of “bundled” reviews that make poor products look highly rated, thus abusing the trust of consumers. Some of the most affected products included the literary works of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and JK Rowling.

Perhaps the most damning revelation is that these flaws in the path to purchase are nothing new. In fact, problems with some reviews seem to go back years, with complaints from readers pointing out they were appearing under the wrong works and editions since at least 2014.

This begs the question, how has Amazon ended up in a position where it is effectively misleading shoppers along the way? Furthermore, who is responsible for these product listings and how can brands hope to re-establish trust among wary customers who have been burnt by these bundled reviews?

The ‘let go and let grow’ approach

The issues customers are facing are systemic of a ‘let go and let grow’ mentality. It’s a fact that the testimonial of like-minded consumers who have bought a product before and had a positive experience are likely to imbue prospective buyers with a sense of confidence in their decision to buy.

It’s for that reason many publishers want to set up their ecosystem in such a way that ratings and reviews are not only easy to leave, but also are available wherever and whenever a consumer might find a particular product listing.

Problems arise where content syndication is left ungoverned and untested. Rules that are created to suit one product category fall down in another. For instance, it is possible to separate reviews for Dirty Dancing by format, if you drill down into each rating level, but the star system still shows the average for all reviews.

Amazon’s efforts to clean up reviews in other parts of the site mean it is now clearer which products comments are about, but there are still cases where reviews for different items and their star ratings are being combined for everything from doorbells, to phone cases and lawnmowers. This is why the management of customer content – those ratings and reviews – is essential.

Bundled reviews is just one battle

For brands, it’s vital to acknowledge that while this issue might seem to be isolated – the result of one or two faulty algorithms – it carries serious ramifications when the wider context is taken into consideration.

Companies should be aware of the possibility of deliberately fraudulent ratings and reviews through a variety of means, including disruptive or trolling activity, commercial messages, automated submissions (e.g. bots, programs, and scripts), illegitimate or degrading content by a competitor, and self-promotion by employees.

A study by Nielsen found intrinsic links between trust and action, with 83% of global respondents stating they trust the opinions of friends and family. With issues around fake & tampered reviews coming to the fore, retailers failing to address these challenges risk the erosion of consumer trust, leading to long-term reputational damage.

This makes the generation and management of all forms of customer content a business-critical practice for all consumer facing brands. While marketplaces share a duty of care that ought not to be forgotten, it’s paramount that they are never left to effectively determine brand reputation on their own.

The real deal

To properly hold marketplaces to account, brands must assume responsibility over the customer experience in its entirety. This means constantly assessing several factors of the review process to prevent fake or misleading reviews from being published.

Effective moderation looks out for everything from certain words and language patterns in written reviews to the data associated with the submission. This includes, but is not limited to, submission velocity, geographic analysis, and consumer characteristics.

Having both textual moderation and data driven anti-fraud processes in place helps to ensure that all consumer-generated content comes from legitimate consumers. In turn, legitimate content feeds in to the overall view of a product that forms in consumers’ minds, meaning purchases are even more likely to meet expectations.

This virtuous cycle sits at the very centre of how marketplaces and retailers best serve their brand partners. It’s important that every stakeholder in the ecosystem acknowledges their duty of care and looks after their piece in the puzzle.

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