Is It Unethical to Purchase Reviews and Endorsements?

company-reviews

If you’ve ever wondered where to grab dinner, which doctor to choose, or which stores carry the best kind of artisan bookends, you’ve probably done a Google search. And, depending on which results show up, you’ll see that there are at least a few local businesses with stars next to their names—the stars representing ratings and reviews.

In the past, we’ve talked about encouraging customers to leave reviews and why reviews are so important to your business. But lately, it seems there’s been a lot of discussion surrounding this topic—is it wrong to offer an incentive for reviews? Should you ever pay for reviews? Should you be able to filter your reviews so that mostly positive ones show up?

Well, in this post we’d like to clarify a few things and hopefully answer some of these questions once and for all. Of course, this is simply our take on the subject—opinions on the ethicality of these subjects definitely wavers.

The Incentive

Some people think it’s unethical to offer an incentive for a review. Just look at what happened to VIP Deals. An Amazon Marketplace seller, VIP Deals had been compensating customers when they submitted positive reviews. The incentive was a full refund for Kindle cases.

Now, a full refund may be a bit over the top. But we don’t see anything wrong with offering your customers a little extra something for participating.

Yes, offering an incentive—whether a 10% off coupon for any old review or a full refund for a positive review—can sway reviewers. Even if you don’t “have” to leave a positive review, you may feel inclined to do so to get the reward.

So we can see where the line gets a bit fuzzy. But if you want to encourage customers to leave you reviews and do so in an ethical way, simply post a sign in your store or send out emails to your subscribers and ask them politely to help you out with a review. If you really want to offer an incentive, something small like a coupon or your photo on a happy customer collage certainly can’t be construed as manipulative or misleading.

The Purchased Review

This is a pretty black-and-white issue for most people: Purchasing reviews is seen as disingenuous. Companies that offer anywhere from $5-200 to leave a positive review seem desperate at best, and completely untrustworthy at worst.

Yelp has cracked down on this, and hard. This article is two years old now, and Yelp has worked hard to improve their algorithm to uncover more problem reviews. And it’s worked—many of the reviews that were actually bogus have been hidden away in an inconspicuous spot on the page (behind a link at the very bottom of the page, where you have to click to get the rest of the reviews to even show up—and they’re printed in gray, meaning they’re not counted toward the overall rating).

But the unfortunate part of this is that sometimes these reviews are genuine, and still get flagged as “not recommended”. This means that, even if you avoid purchasing reviews, sometimes your happy customers will oblige you with a kind review, and their words won’t even end up being seen. This isn’t incredibly common, but because of the rocky history of review purchasing, it has become an unfortunate problem.

The bottom line? Don’t purchase reviews. They will be removed, you will be punished or banned from the site, and it can only result in your own reputation being harmed.

The Retaliatory Review

Some companies go as far as to have their customers leave nasty reviews on competitors’ sites, while rating their own products highly so that they appear to be the better choice.

Now, obviously we all think our products are the best. And we strive to provide the best customer experience possible. We don’t want to think that someone else out there could be stealing our potential customers.

So for some reason, unscrupulous business owners have paid people to go out and leave these exceedingly negative reviews. And guess what? Places like Amazon and Yelp have figured out how to discover whether you’ve actually purchased the product you’re reviewing or not. For example, on Amazon.com, reviews will say something like “verified purchase”. This way, a customer can easily see who has actually purchased the product and who hasn’t.

If you’ve been thinking of sending out the minions to make your competitors look bad in comparison to your awesomeness, you’d better think again. This will backfire on you.

So what’s a company to do?

According to the LA Times, very few customers write reviews. In fact, for one case study, fewer than 2% of customers wrote reviews.

It’s all in your judgment—you can offer a small incentive for customers who review you, and you can make sure that your politely-worded request is visible on your website, social media sites, and any advertising that you do—as well as in your store, if you have a storefront. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging reviews. It’s when you start paying for them, lying about your competitors, or offering incentives worth far too much money (basically, you’re paying for the reviews at this point), that you have a problem.

Don’t risk your reputation. Keep your reviews honest, and it’ll pay off.

Comments or thoughts you’d like to share? Put them in the comments below!

Advertisements

3 Reasons to Encourage Customer Reviews

customer reviews five stars
Customer reviews are essential to your small business’s growth.

Whether you really enjoyed your service or really hated it, chances are that you’ve left a review for a company before. Believe it or not, these reviews (even the bad ones!) can actually help a company in multiple ways: Reviews not only help a business gain visibility and credibility on the internet, but it also gives the owners a chance to converse with customers and learn how to make a customer’s experience better. In other words, reviews benefit everyone. But how can you go about encouraging customer to leave reviews for a small business without coming off as pushy or desperate?

Here are three reasons you should encourage customer reviews in a natural—not an annoying—way.

  1. Customers who read online reviews tend to purchase more. According to statistics cited by Econsultancy.com, 61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision and 63% of customers are more likely to make a purchase from a site that has user reviews. And when you really think about it, this probably rings true for you, too. In my case, the last time I was shopping for a book online, I read the reviews first. Sometimes I purposely look through books with terrible ratings just to see how bad they really are (strange pastime, I know); however, I will never end up paying for them. Instead, I’ll pay for the ones that have outstanding reviews. And I bet if you think back to the last time you were shopping online, you probably did the same thing.
  1. Reviews can help advertise a new product. Do you have a new product or service available for your customers? You can encourage reviews by offering a coupon or gift certificate to those who complete a survey or leave you a review. According to Sam Decker, vice president of marketing and products at Bazaarvoice, a gift certificate offered in exchange for reviews can boost your review volume by 500 to 800 percent. That’s a lot of new reviews for your company—and the gift certificates will bring in customers who may otherwise have decided against making a purchase at your store.
  2. Reviews help customers get more involved with your brand. When a customer leaves you a review, they’re spending their own free time offering you their voice. Whether the review is positive or not, this is a pretty big deal! Take the time to respond to your reviews. Make sure that you engage all customers with respect and honesty. And be sure to encourage them to review wherever it feels comfortable. For example, if you’re on Yelp as well as Foursquare, leave links to Yelp and Foursquare on all of your sites—social media included. Send out periodic tweets or posts asking customers (politely) to leave a review if they had a great experience with you. Before long, your customers will become more involved with your brand. And when they see that you respond to your customers, they’ll know that you take the time to read their opinions and that you take them seriously. Now that’s some positive PR!

With these things in mind, here are a few things you might want to avoid:

Don’t blast the customer with an email every other day. Have you noticed now that wherever you go—the mall, a restaurant, or even a website—that everyone asks you to fill out a survey or give an opinion? As a customer, it gets exhausting. As a business owner, it’s stressful. You, the owner, get irritated trying to get customers to cooperate. And in turn, they don’t feel like filling out a form after every shopping experience! So simply ask them in a polite way and move on. They’ll participate if they want to, and bugging them all the time won’t help your case.

Don’t beg for reviews. I’ve seen it on Twitter more times than I care to count. “Review me and I’ll love you forever!” “Help me out and I’ll follow you!” “Please, please, please review me, I need help!” None of this looks good; it’s actually totally unprofessional in the best scenario, and makes you look desperate in the worst. There’s no issue with occasionally tweeting something like “Have you had a great experience at our store? Leave us a review!” and posting a link to the review site. Just be sure to ask in a friendly, professional manner and try not to spam your followers.

Don’t fake reviews. You know the saying “Fake it ‘til you make it?” Well, that doesn’t apply here. Faking reviews is probably the biggest faux pas that small companies make, as well as the one most commonly seen. Your family and friends are probably more than willing to help you out by leaving you glowing, positive reviews. And that’s great that they support you—but you should be focused on gathering real customer reviews. Don’t fall victim to paying for them or padding your reviews with falsities.

Need help getting customer reviews?

At Internet Local Listings, we help our clients get their small businesses listed accurately across the internet. As an internet marketing company, we strive to help each and every client reach more customers, and in turn, grow their business. And because our packages are priced at a rate that the average small business can afford, we truly believe that by working together, we can make a lasting difference for your company where other internet marketing companies can’t. Call or visit us today for more information.