Study: Consumers Want Open Review Platforms. Where Do Your Stars Come From?
Customer reviews play an increasingly critical role in helping retailers succeed and build their brands. No real surprise there; 90 percent of Americans say they read reviews before making a purchase. Peer feedback has become an integral step in the customer journey. Interestingly enough, review platforms are viewed by U.S. consumers as the second most trusted source of information, behind only recommendations from friends and family.
And yet despite the significance of customer reviews, recent research from Trustpilot found that Americans wasted an average of $125 annually on purchases made using inaccurate or misleading reviews as guidance for those purchases. With some quick, back-of-napkin math, that amounts to billions of dollars of ill-informed purchases in the U.S. alone. And much of the reason comes down to where those reviews were written and collected in the first place.
Now more than ever — in this age of distrust, misinformation, and “fake news” — how and where retailers earn their stars is more important than the number of stars they have.
Open vs. Closed
There are two types of online review platforms: open and closed. Open platforms allow everyone to participate. Closed platforms do not.
In an open ecosystem, all consumers read and write reviews as well as provide feedback for companies, products and services, regardless of whether they’ve been invited by the brand to do so. In addition, all of that feedback is visible for the world to see. As long as the review doesn’t violate certain guidelines (e.g., use of hate speech or disclosure of personal information), that review lives in perpetuity and cannot be removed, censored or manipulated by the company for which the review was intended. In short, an open platform is completely transparent and provides consumers with an uncensored view of reality.
Closed platforms are the exact opposite. They give companies the power to:
- Selectively invite: Known as cherry picking, companies are able to choose who gets to leave a review and who doesn't by only inviting their best or most satisfied customers to leave feedback in a gated, opaque environment.
- Censor: Companies are able to hide or unpublish reviews they don’t like so that the general public never sees them.
- Incentivize: While many review platforms allow companies to incentivize to increase feedback participation rates (e.g., with a $5 gift card to your favorite coffee joint), this happens in secrecy on closed review platforms. Furthermore, companies can offer incentives for leaving positive feedback only. And because it all happens behind closed doors, the public is none the wiser.
To be fair, open ecosystems aren't without their flaws. Because open review platforms allow everyone to participate, they have to make serious investments with regards to the integrity of the content on the platform. Sophisticated safeguards, like machine learning-driven fraud detection tools and fully staffed content integrity teams, are essential — and costly. Not every open platform has the means or the funds to do this effectively. Those that do are locked in a never-ending game of whack-a-mole; when one bad actor pops up and is smacked down, another is ready to take its place.
However, as long as that fight is being fought, consumers have time and again opted for open review platforms with built-in transparency.
In Darkness or in Light?
When retailers are inevitably faced with the decision of where to collect their stars, consumers are more and more often demanding transparency. In fact, that’s really what the decision comes down to: Is your brand transparent with its customers or is it not? Is the company willing to accept the bad with the good, or is it not? Will the negative feedback be used to make tangible improvements to the product or service, or will there be an attempt to suppress it? Those firms which embrace customer feedback will increasingly become more respected, valued, successful and competitive companies.
The answer is becoming clear for thousands of retailers across the country. If loyalty and trust with customers is part of a company’s goals, there’s only one path to take. The same study found an alarming distrust among U.S. consumers when it comes to brands removing or censoring legitimate consumer reviews across the internet, with 72 percent of consumers stating they're very concerned by the practice. In addition, 39 percent said this practice is violating their freedom of speech, and 43 percent believe companies are knowingly and willingly deleting negative reviews when given the opportunity to do so on a closed platform.
What it all comes down to is this: 57 percent of consumers want transparent review platforms where feedback can’t be hidden or manipulated.
Rolling the Dice
For retailers, the way in which those stars are earned is now on the forefront of consumers’ minds. There’s a choice to be made, one that will directly impact how the general public perceives the brand in the long run. Gambling on a closed review platform might temporarily pay off in the short term, assuming there’s a willingness to jeopardize trust with customers and potential customers. However, if you’re in it for the long game, it’s time to start embracing consumer feedback — all of it — rather than manipulating it.
The full report, Critical Role of Reviews in Internet Trust, can be found here.
Glenn Manoff is chief communications officer at Trustpilot, the world’s most powerful review platform — free and open to all.
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Glenn Manoff is Chief Communications Officer at Trustpilot, the world’s most powerful review platform - free and open to all.
Glenn joined Trustpilot in August 2016. He was previously Director of Communications, Social Business and Sustainability at O2 and Group Director of Corporate Affairs at Camelot. An award-winning Corporate Communications and Brand Marketing leader, Glenn was an integral member of the team that built O2 into a commercial and brand leader. As part of Trustpilot’s top team, Glenn works to drive the company’s communications and brand strategy for business growth. He holds an MA in International Relations and Economics from Johns Hopkins University.