What are the rules regarding online reviews?

7 september 2018 |  by Mark Leenards

Nowadays, online reviews are a crucial part of the online buying process. Research shows that over 75% of the people who regularly buy products online, firstly read online reviews about a certain product. For them, it is an easy way to make sure the product is as it is promised and will satisfy their expectations.

Many webshops know this already. They often show the reviews on prominent places on the website and ask clients to leave a review on the products they bought via an e-mail.. Reviews are not only a marketing tool to reach (potential) clients, but also a way to learn more about the existing customers.

The trustworthiness of online reviews is often criticised. The more popular online reviews get, the more their trustworthiness should be discussed. Posting fake reviews is relatively easy and sometimes seems like a good way of creating a positive image - at least for some companies. Recognising a fake review is therefore not easy, which gives these cheating companies a free pass. The consequence of this is that reviews have less of a value overall.

So, what are the rules regarding online reviews?

While it is relatively easy to mislead customers with fake reviews, it is absolutely not allowed. In The Netherlands, the Authority for Consumers & Markets (ACM) does take consequences against companies when they violate the rules. One of those rules is that any company cannot be involved with unfair business practices, and misleading is one of those. All rules concerning this can be found in the Civil Code.

In this blogpost we will highlight the most important rules when it comes to facilitating online reviews by for example webshops.

What isn’t allowed

Although it happens more and more often, it is still not allowed to act like a customer as a company and post a review about their own product of service. This is only allowed when the review is placed under a own personal name (for exaple for a employee) so that other customers can track the review. Companies are also not allowed to pay others to leave reviews, unless this is clearly stated along with the review.

A company also has the responsibility to make sure others won’t abuse the possibility of posting reviews as well. This can be done by checking the IP-address and by verifying the fact that the writer actually bought the product. To establish this, buyers should be the only ones to be able to leave a review, and only from a few weeks after the purchase. By doing this, you get honest and valuable reviews that are taken seriously.

For a company, it can be tempting to delete negative reviews, but doing this is not recommended. Research shows that a small amount of negative reviews gives the customer trust in the product and company, since a product with only good reviews seems suspicious to them. When a customer has faith in the posted reviews, (s)he gets the idea (s)he has made a good consideration of the pros and cons. The choice to buy a certain product is then more legitimate in the mind of the customer, and they will have a smaller chance to regret the purchase later.

How big is this problem?

According to the ACM, far from all reviews can be trusted on the internet. In The Netherlands however, large scale fraude with reviews is not happening yet. The usage of big ‘neutral’ platforms for online reviews like TripAdvisor and Trustpilot are recommended. Using a neutral platform increases the trustworthiness of the online reviews and the reviews will therefore have more impact.

Dangers for online reputation and trustworthiness

Selling fake reviews is big business in some countries. For a small amount of money it is possible to buy dozens of fake Google Reviews. Many starting companies are tricked into this, because it seems like an easy way to persuade customers to buy their products. However, it will not do any good for the company’s long term strategy, since it will cause a bad reputation and a decreased trustworthiness.

Trustier: a tool for measuring trustworthiness

Besides facilitating online reviews, there are multiple ways of asking your customers for their opinion on a product or services. Trustier is a new way of expressing trust in companies, organisations and even in customers. This works through so called Trustcoins, the digital currency of trust.

Trustier is an online reputation management system that is focussed on making trustworthiness measurable and transmissible. Based on the amount of trustcoins someone received, they get a trust score which is called the Trust Tier. The Trust Tier is an indicator of trustworthiness that can be used both on- and offline, for example as a marketingtool or when applying for a new job.