Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

British consumers demand greater government protection against fake reviews 

Today (Tuesday 10 May) the new Consumer Protection Bill is expected to lay out proposals making it illegal to pay someone to write or host fake reviews online. Latest research reveals British consumers want measures that offer them total protection from fake reviews. 78% of consumers and 81% of businesses are calling for greater action to put an end to fake reviews and urging the Government to bring in the same laws being introduced across the EU on 28 May.   

That’s according to new data from Feefo, the world’s largest provider of ethical verified buyer reviews, which surveyed over 2,000 British consumers and 500 SME owners.  

In 2021, fake online reviews were estimated to cost the UK $2.3 billion and the global economy $152 billion. 97% of people read reviews before making a purchase and the average UK household spends £900 each year after being influenced by online reviews. Yet, Feefo’s data shows consumers feel unprotected against the growing problem of fake reviews with 70% of people wanting the Government to act urgently to stop people being misled.   

In April, the Government announced proposals to make fake reviews illegal and plans to provide the CMA with increased power to clamp down on the issue. However, ahead of Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech, 78% of consumers and 81% of businesses are calling for the same protection as their EU counterparts, which provides more immediate action and ensures robust procedures are in place to prevent fake reviews online.  

On 28th May, an EU directive, dubbed the “New Era for Consumer Rights” will come into effect making it illegal for a business to host a fake review on their website. The measures currently go a step further than the UK’s proposals. Businesses within the EU will need to implement stricter processes to ensure published reviews originate from consumers who have usually or purchased products.   

The damaging real-life impact of fake reviews  

The pandemic fuelled the rise of ecommerce, and online shopping is now set to account for 37.8% of total retail sales in 2022. This means shoppers need to be able to trust the feedback they’re reading. However, Feefo’s data found that over a quarter (27%) of consumers have been misled by a fake review, some potentially resulting in harmful consequences.   

A fifth of those asked say they bought a product or service that was a hazard to themselves and their family and another 30% were left out of pocket as a result. Similarly, 40% of SME owners have been negatively impacted by fake reviews, with knock on effects to their business. With fake review infiltrating the system and the technology becoming more sophisticated, only half of people asked say they know how to spot a fake review with many sceptical on whether they could tell the difference between a fake or real review.  

Feefo’s data demonstrates the current standard of online reviews isn’t working. Over a third of UK consumers (36%) don’t trust reviews on open platforms such as Trustpilot – where anyone can leave a review, with no human checks in place to ensure the reviewer has purchased a product or service.  

In contrast, people will trust a review if it’s been verified through robust procedures such as only inviting customers who have paid for the product or service, rather than verified email addresses, to leave reviews and labelling them clearly so consumers can quickly identify reviews from real buyers. In fact, two thirds say their purchasing decisions would be influenced by reading a review if they knew a reviews platform had properly vetted its origin. This is reflected in the upcoming EU Directive as businesses will be required to prove the reviews they are hosting online are verified. An ethical review is verified by a business or reviews platform only inviting a customer to write a review and checking its origins before publicly sharing.  This is the clarity UK consumers and businesses are calling on from the Government.  

Feefo’s CEO, Tony Wheble, said: “British consumers deserve the same level of protection as our EU counterparts from the sketchy world of fake reviews. Whilst it’s good the Government has started to put the wheels in motion, we need to protect people now. People spend £900 a year based on reviews and when money is tight, particularly during a cost-of-living crisis, it can’t afford to be wasted. When half the population can’t tell if a review is fake, they should be able to trust that every customer review is from someone who has experienced that product or service.  

“British businesses also need support and guidance. The current proposal granting powers to the CMA to fine 10% of global turnover for those that fall foul of the rules is a big deal. Yet, this suggests the sole responsibility falls on the business themselves when there is no excuse for reviews platforms not to have strict verification processes in place.”  

Wheble added: “I’m urging the Government to take note of what consumers and businesses are calling for and to not be complacent when it comes to implementing immediate change. Whilst we wait for increased protection, business must consider moving to an ethical platform that properly verifies the reviews, so they and their customers know the reviews they see are from real people.”