STUDY: Almost 40% of U.S. Consumers Trust Online Reviews Less Than They Did Five Years Ago

Reviews.com Staff
Reviews.com Staff
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There is no doubt that a product or service with hundreds or thousands of five-star reviews will sell better than one with fewer total reviews or a lower star average.

But one notable trend in recent years has been the consumer’s deteriorating trust in these reviews. There have been countless reports about how reviews can easily be paid for or faked. As these trends become more pervasive in online commerce, it makes sense that consumers would slowly lose faith in reviews as a reliable way to assess a purchase decision.

In order to determine if, and how much, this trust has changed in recent years, the Reviews.com consumer research team conducted a study on trends in consumer trust in online reviews. A survey conducted on 1,044 U.S. residents about their confidence in consumer reviews found some notable trends.

Study Findings:

  • 44% of consumers say they trust online reviews about the same as they did five years ago. 
  • 38.5% say they trust online reviews less than they did five years ago.
  • 9.9% say they trust online reviews more than they did five years ago.
  • 7.6% say they weren’t sure or didn’t have a strong opinion.
  • A trend of deteriorating trust is likely accelerating, with 60% of respondents saying they think the quality of online reviews is decreasing.
  • In 2017, 84% of U.S. consumers reported trusting online reviews. Comparing this to the above research, it’s obvious a large decline in trust is occurring.

All five-star reviews and raving commentary written by adoring fans of a product or business listening must be a good sign, right?

While a company or product may have earned itself a near-perfect rating, CNBC reported in 2020 that fake reviews are on a rapid rise. There are entire business industries dedicated to providing fake or paid reviews to brands and services, and it’s in high demand. While it’s hard to find an exact number, estimates from different sources suggest that anywhere from 10% to 40% of online reviews are fake. And while most major brands claim to be proactive about removing fake reviews, this can be a hard problem to solve.

One of the difficult parts of tracking fake reviews is defining what counts as a fake review. While, of course, if someone is simply paid to produce a five-star review for a product or service they never used, it’s easy to call it fake.

But what about the following scenarios:

  • Someone is given the product to review for free, likely incentivizing a more positive review (and in some cases explicitly agreed upon).
  • Someone is offered a cash incentive to write a five-star review after ordering a product or using a service.

While there is nothing wrong with asking consumers for reviews of a product or service, a direct incentive to do so often muddies objectivity. Also, it makes it considerably harder to distinguish between a real and fake review.

What advice is there for consumers looking to avoid fake reviews?

  • CNET wrote a guide on spotting fake reviews in 2019 that offers helpful hints and tools for spotting fake reviews. 
  • It’s always also worth filtering reviews and reading the more moderately scored four- and three-star reviews to get what is likely the most honest feedback.
  • Look for batches of five-star reviews all in a row; this normally signifies that the reviews were paid for or faked.
  • Check the reviewer’s profile (if available) to see how many reviews they have done and on what types of products. If it looks like a real person with no pattern to their reviews, it’s more likely an honest review.

Alternatively, you could also turn to trustworthy sites that rate and review products in an honest and transparent way. Trustworthy websites are clear about which advertisers or products they are partnered with and receive revenue from. Reviews.com is one of these websites. Not only does Reviews.com disclose advertiser and editorial policies, we also rate products and services with an objective and quantifiable methodology to assign it a score on a scale of one to five.

Study Methodology: 

  • The survey collected 1,044 responses from U.S. residents.
  • Survey responses were collected February 4-7, 2021.
  • All responses were collected online.

About the Authors

The Reviews.com staff is dedicated to providing you with all the deep-dive details. Our writers, researchers, and editors came together from Charlotte, Seattle, San Juan, Fort Worth, Fort Lauderdale, San Diego, and Chicago to put this review together.