Feefo and BSI launch first international standard for online reviews

We may not really think about it, but online reviews play a big part in our everyday lives. From deciding on where to eat, to choosing the next family holiday, we are constantly seeking the opinions of others to help us make better decisions.  

Unfortunately, the opinions of strangers can’t always be trusted. Many businesses have been caught writing, selling and using fake reviews to boost their business or help tarnish another’s, causing consumers to be misled and make (sometimes) very costly mistakes.

To help improve the integrity of reviews, increase consumer confidence and protect businesses, the BSI has launched the first international standard for online reviews. ISO 20488 was launched at a joint event with Feefo, who played a significant part in creating the standard. Alongside the new standard, we also unveiled our latest annual consumer report during the event.

Our latest findings, the standard and the key issues facing the ecommerce industry were the topics of discussion in a lively panel debate with a host of industry experts. Here are our top takeaways from the event.

Online reviews can improve industry standards – if businesses listen to them

Jon Riley, Project Direct at the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA), pointed out that customer reviews don’t just build trust and provide insight, they can also help improve an industry. Businesses who lead the way in collecting honest reviews, and act on the feedback they receive, could help set a standard for other organisations within the same industry, as consumer expectations will be high.

45% of consumers don’t believe retailers or service providers will take any notice of their feedback. This is a huge increase from 2017, when 14% of consumers said they were deterred from leaving reviews because they didn’t know if the company would respond or not. It’s therefore essential that businesses act on the feedback they receive and make that clear to the customer.

Fake reviews won’t be a thing of the past anytime soon

While ISO 20488 will help to encourage businesses and reviews sites to follow best practice when it comes to collecting and using honest feedback, it’s not a magic wand, Jon explained.

“There’s always going to be incentive for businesses to write fake reviews,” he said, but it’s not all bad news. “Consumers are still using online reviews and they are still broadly satisfied with online reviews and tend to trust them too.”

Indeed, 94% of consumers use online reviews when looking for a product or service, but our research also shows that trust in reviews may be deteriorating. Almost nine-in-ten consumers (89%) said they were concerned about fake reviews, whereas 75% were worried about the same issue the previous year. Steps forward such as the ISO standard will encourage more businesses and reviews platforms to alter the way they operate and improve trust within their industries. Transparency is key.

“Building an authentic brand is vital to building trust,” Rachel Aldighieri, Managing Director at the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and Group Marketing Director at DMA Group, noted.

You may also be interested in: Are fake reviews really illegal?

Most consumers are savvy, but many are still being hoodwinked by fake feedback

Julie Hunter, the Inclusivity Coordinator for BSI’s Consumer and Public Interest Network, noted that while consumers understand that fake reviews exist, there is always a danger they will still be deceived.

“Online reviews have a huge power and influence over consumer spending,” she said. “There’s the risk of consumers being misled at a larger scale if [reviews] aren’t managed correctly.”

A quarter of consumers say they’ve been misled by a review, which is likely why 59% of shoppers claim they are more likely to buy from an organisation that only publishes verified reviews. Surprisingly, younger consumers may be at risk of falling victim to fake feedback, as the 18-24 age group are less bothered about whether the reviews they are reading are verified or not.

“The fundamental thing we need to understand is a number of consumers don’t trust the reviews that are out there,” Matt West, Chief Revenue Officer at Feefo, stated. “We will definitely be using [the standard] as a measure for the trust we have with businesses and consumers.”

The standard is just the start

“The standard looks at the picture now in the industry, but review sites are going to change. It’s important that the standards and CMA’s enforcements keeps pace with that,” Jon said. David Fatscher, Head of Market Development, Sustainability and Services at the BSI, added: “We must keep engaging with organisations to make sure [the standard] is still serving its purpose.”

While the standard isn’t compulsory, it acts as a detailed checklist that demonstrates best practices regarding online reviews.

“The standard is a process of evolution,” Julie explained. “Companies aren’t going to comply on day one.” She believes it will be great for consumers to be able to see which businesses comply with the standard, as it will help them making better buying decisions.

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Find out how consumers shop and research online, how they use and leave online reviews, and more in the 2018 Feefo Consumer Report. Click the button below to get your copy!


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