Are internet consumer reviews of any value?

Recent academic studies have been looking into consumer reviews, specifically about whether or not consumers can trust them. The studies have raised questions about whether we can trust online opinions of products as they may just be fake reviews.

A team from Cornell University, in the US have created a system that should be able to detect whether a review is genuine. Myle Ott is the author of the recently published study and has said that, “online reviews are completely useless if we cannot tell which ones are real and which ones are made up.”

Linchi Kwok, also based in the United States is a social media professor and has said that reviews of items on websites is a major influencer in whether people buy the product. He said, “Everyone selling online wants to differentiate their product. They will try to do this with genuine consumer reviews, but if they cannot get these then they might just create them.”

While the study from Cornell looked at online reviews for hotels, there have been studies in other products. One examined the reviews on Amazon. Initially the website only had reviews from people who worked for Amazon, shortly after this it introduced customer reviews and was one of the pioneers of this method of review. The problem is that many of these reviews could be made up and studies have highlighted the large number of five star reviews on the site.

The study looked at the motivations behind those writing reviews and these came out primarily as being: enjoyment, self-expression and getting free books or items to review. The free items were important to the researchers as it shows the reviewers get material rewards – which can influence their reviewing habits. Reviews also tended to be positive as negative reviews tend to be rated ‘unhelpful’ by other users.