A recent study by Gartner concluded that by 2014, 10 to 15% of all online reviews would be fake. That’s a crime, because a large portion of consumers use online reviews to help them make decisions about where to shop, who to hire and where to eat.
Restaurant.com is taking care of that last part with their Verified Review program. Before anyone can leave a review on the site, they have to purchase and redeem a restaurant voucher. Once their redemption has been verified, they get a link inviting them to leave a review.
To assure the best possible quality, reviewers must also complete a short survey and assign star ratings. They’re also required to comment only on the restaurant experience; the food, the service, the ambiance. They may not use the review to talk abut a bad experience with the deal or their own personal disaster. (My boyfriend broke up with me at dinner! I hate this restaurant.)
As intuitive as this all sounds, it’s not a system we commonly find in regard to online reviews. The only other place I’ve ever seen a verified review is on iTunes. If you don’t buy an app through them, you can’t review it. They even block reviews from folks who received a free gift code for an app. Like Restaurant.com, they’re determined to keep the reviews as unbiased and honest as possible.
But then there’s the case of Amazon. Anyone can leave a review of an item, even if you didn’t buy the item from them. On the upside, I can give you a free copy of my book in return for a glowing review on Amazon. But you can also go on Amazon and leave a bad review on my book just to make trouble. No reading necessary.
It’s a tricky spot. There’s no question that Amazon benefits from having 1,000’s of reviews on their site. If they only allowed buyers to write reviews, that number would probably drop by at least a quarter if not more. The question is, which is more valuable, a large number of questionable reviews or a small number of guaranteed honest reviews.
Which would you choose if this was your site?