Should consumers even bother with online reviews? COM0011, blog post #4

So you’re ready to make the next step up to a high-end digital SLR camera before your trip to New York city next month. And, oh yeah, you’re looking for a quiet, clean, respectable hotel during your visit. Where do you start? Probably where most people start – online reviews.

But before you do, take heed. Those glowing reviews you read may not be legitimate in the least. Up to 15 per cent of online reviews are fake, according to the CBC’s Marketplace TV show that aired last Friday ( I’m starting to think that number may be much higher.

According to Marketplace, people tend to trust online reviews more than advertising, while in fact, many reviews are just that: advertising in disguise. Companies are so often turning to fake reviews, that an industry has popped up to serve them. Look at and you’ll find dozens of women and even couples ready to tout the wonders of your latest products or services, starting at a mere five dollars.


Even companies such as the apparently no-longer-existing Emizr will create a number of reviews for you each month according to your contract with them, as the show’s producers found out. now redirects to a company named Qode Media Inc. – I presume since being exposed on Marketplace. The investment pays off: just one extra star on a restaurant’s reviews can translate in a revenue increase of up to 9 per cent.

Marketplace created a fake grilled-cheese food stand/truck company called and had wonderful reviews online without having produced a single sandwich. Yelp was the only site they used that screened out two of three fake reviews. Google and Urbanspoon found none of them.

truckCBC Marketplace

How to spot a fake review? It’s difficult. One of eight people stopped on the street thought the fake review was the real one and vice versa. Noticing language that is too glowing, or enthusiastic, and that uses a lot of story telling is a good start, according to Communication Professor Jeffrey Hancock of Cornell University, interviewed on the show. Fake reviews often involve conjuring up scenarios about what it might have been like, while actual review tend to be more to the point, like “Good product. It did what I expected it to do.”

Realsimple suggests being wary of formal names, model numbers and tech/marketing jargon in reviews; investigating reviewers; and checking their timing ( If a bunch of amazing reviews were posted in a relatively close timeframe, chances are they’re fake.

But looking at the bigger picture: if we can’t exactly trust great reviews, and negative reviews are fading away thanks to the fear of legal repercussions (, is it still worth checking out online review? Well, for hotels at least, you have a tool that can help, thanks to Prof. Hancock’s Review Skeptic ( It can tell you with 90 per cent accuracy if a review is fake. I think for the rest, I may just ask my friends.

7 thoughts on “Should consumers even bother with online reviews? COM0011, blog post #4

  1. Thanks for a topical subject of interest to many. For what it is worth, I do my research starting with the premise that there will always be someone extolling a benefit or service. So, while that may first catch my attention, once interested in a product or service I will try to find out what someone does Not Like. If possible, I cross reference reviews, especially if the consequences of a decision to invest or buy are great. But, overall, I would prefer to have someone’s comments to consider, rather than to purchase something based simply on an on line photo or description provided by the retailer.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts on this. I would also prefer to have someone’s opinion, but not if it’s someone who was paid to give it and has never even seen the product…
    I had to buy an infant car seat and was looking at a Maxi Cosi model that would fit the stroller a friend gave me. I found it a bit strange that several sites gave it super reviews, but on one, there were a number of people who said it was too cramped and that their baby sweated a lot from the excess padding. These issues never came up on the other sites. It was just strange. Our priority though was safety and weight, and luckily the chances of us having a big baby are slim. Now we just need to upgrade to a car with AC.

  3. Thanks for sharing this interesting information. As an “advertiser” by trade, I always assume that ads are factual and correct, but it’s always great to have an “opinion” to go by as well. I usually read online reviews when making purchases, but I also find that using social media helps. I will often ask my “friends” on Facebook if they have any experience with a product/service before making a commitment to buy.

  4. Gotta love Marketplace — always entertaining.
    And it just reinforces how I’ve always looked at online reviews — I use them for information that might help with further research, but that’s where it stops. Any decision I make based on reviews have to come from people I know and trust.

  5. Very interesting read — I read reviews all the time when preparing to purchase anything of importance, and even when deciding where to eat out or stay when on vacation. I do take whats written online with a grain of salt. I usually read a few reviews and look for trends in them. I think the pros of going online for reviews definitely outweigh the “cons”.

  6. Thanks for your comments. My brother-in-law explained to me his opinion last night, which essentially was: “Well at least there’s hope that you’ll get some real reviews now, whereas before advertising was all lies…” 😉
    He thinks that most people are aware that a lot of review are fake, but I’m not completely convinced.

  7. Great post, Sarah. This stuff happens all the time. If you spend some time online searching for freelance work as a writer or editor, you often come upon postings looking for writers to write “realistic reviews” by the hundreds and they’re actually paid per review. In the end, I think you’re right–just ask your friends, family or take a poll on social media. 🙂

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