Would you buy a present without reading the reviews?

Would you buy a present without reading the reviews?

With Christmas shopping yet to reach its peak, time spent researching product reviews will be hugely on the increase.

Online reviews now form a vital part of UK consumers’ decision-making, according to the Competition and Markets Authority, the body responsible for market studies in the UK.

Half of all adults read reviews, and the CMA estimates that number translates to some £23bn of domestic consumer spending being potentially influenced by reviews.

Not many consumers researching Christmas presents may choose a holiday or flights as a gift. But when it comes to January, the busiest booking period of the year, user reviews will be paramount in helping decide where to travel – and with whom.

The number of review platforms has expanded hugely in recent years, with Feefo now the biggest independent review company in the UK, with clients including the largest online travel agents, like Booking.com and Expedia.

Revoo has also emerged in the travel sector, with customers including Heathrow, Hoseasons, Kuoni and Europcar. And now smaller, more price competitive firms are moving into travel, such as i-Trust with entry levels at just £30 a month.

The key to these companies is that they will only ask for reviews from travellers who bought a product, so that their reviews are genuine. It has always been the achilles’ heel of Tripadvisor that anybody can leave a review, which can be abused.

“Consumers now expect any business with an online presence to display reviews both good or bad from genuine past clients,” says Tim Argent of i-Trust.

“In addition, collecting reviews keeps the business fully informed of what their customers feel about the product and service they are delivering. It empowers the customer and they know that their voice is appreciated by the business and therefore will remain loyal and more likely to recommend the business to others.”

But even as confidence in the validity of review sites grows, so the ‘gaming’ of reviews has expanded. Last month, Amazon decided to sue 1,000 fake reviewers, a move which reflects the concern there is about the scale of fakes.

According to the CMA, online reviews have been distorted by the growth of a “clandestine” market of bogus reviews.

A report in Time refers to research that claims up to 30% of prduct reviews are fake, with the figure for hotel reviews of between 10-20%.

Several of the review sites say they believe the figure is far lower, at between 1%-2% but the CMA says the level is hard to gauge. “Given the clandestine nature of the fake reviews, it would almost impossible to arrive at a credible figure,” its report said.

Technology helps spot fake reviews and is an art constantly that constantly evolves. However, online reviews are now so established that they will not diminish in importance.

In a presentation at World Travel Market last year, Feefo’s sales director Matt Eames revealed some powerful statistics in his speech:

  • 75% of customers now expect to be able to feedback on their experiences
  • Half won’t book a hotel which doesn’t have reviews
  • 40% of personal travellers use social networking to share their experiences (and 46% of biz travellers)
  • 30% of customers suspect censorship or faked reviews if they don’t see bad scores.
  • Adding reviews onto product pages increases conversion by 18%

The fear that many established businesses have, say both i-Trust and Feefo, is of customers posting bad reviews. But, says Eames: “You have to take the good with the bad – it is very important for retailers to realize this. Do not moderate comments – if a customers’ comment is taken down or changed, they may go to other social channels and let people know that.”

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Steve Keenan has been a travel journalist for 25 years. He started at a Reed paper, news editing at Travel News in London - now Travel Weekly - having spent a decade reporting general news in the UK and abroad. He also taught English in Peru, delivered cars in the USA, ran the Sydney desk at AAP and took the train home from Hong Kong. He left Travel News in 1990 to freelance for several publications, including The Times of London, which he later joined as deputy travel editor. In December 2004, he became the first national digital travel editor in the UK, running the combined travel website of The Times and Sunday Times. The introduction of a paywall at the papers in 2010 persuaded him that the connected world might continue outside of Wapping and he left to co-found Travel Perspective. The company runs the social media seminars at World Travel Market London, and works with Reed Expos and others in helping the travel and tourism industry best communicate stories in all forms of publishing.

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