As an online shopper, you've most likely never asked yourself if you're reading reviews on an open reviews system or a closed reviews system. However, if you've ever wondered whether or not you are reading fake reviews, you've essentially asked yourself the same thing.
As a business owner, knowing the difference between a closed reviews system and open reviews system means knowing whether or not you are collecting (and displaying) authentic reviews. Do you want to build your online reputation in an authentic way or are you willing to collect fake reviews (solicited or unsolicited!) and risk putting your business's reputation on the line?
When I’m shopping on a new website, one of the first things I’ll do is check out the seller’s reviews to see what kind of experiences other shoppers have had with them.
Naturally, I’d expect to find varying reviews with some going into great detail about the customer’s experience and opinions, while others simply stating that the delivery arrived. One thing's for sure. If I'm sure that I'm reading a verified customer's review, I'm much more confident that what I'm reading is genuine.
Clearly, all reviews are not created equally. However, review systems are not created equally either and that is something consumers (and some business owners) don’t necessarily think about when they think about online reviews. In today’s article, we’ll be looking at the differences between a closed reviews system and an open reviews system and why it matters so much for your online shop.
A closed review system is actually a very simple concept. It means that only verified customers can leave reviews for a company.
On the other hand, an open review system allows absolutely anyone to leave a review. This kind of system is deeply flawed and offers an opportunity for foul play whether intentional or not.
Now that you know what exactly a closed review system is, let’s look at what advantages there are to using one.
If you’re a business owner who is truly concerned about the customer experience, then feedback is immensely important to you. By getting reviews from real customers, you know that their experiences, no matter how unique, are going to be authentic.
A good company cares about real feedback from their customers.
With real feedback, you can actually fix the things in your company that aren't working. If the customer support process takes too long time, you’ll know about it. If the website is confusing, you’ll know about it. If the package takes too long to arrive, you’ll know about it.
If a specific product is getting negative reviews, you’ll know about it. You see where this is going. Verified customers give authentic feedback. With that knowledge, you can take action and optimise your shop, whether that means improving the service to your customers or removing a certain product from your product line.
When customers read real, unbiased reviews, they are getting a more balanced view of what a company is really like. Therefore, there is less surprise when they finally do receive their product.
This means that there is a much lower chance that the customer will feel misled about the company they’re doing business with and there’s a good chance they will do business with that particular business again.
Besides the warm, fuzzy feeling you might get from knowing that your customers are getting what they expect, the financial motivator for you, as a business owner, is that you’ll get fewer returns on these products because customers actually got what they expected.
The most obvious reason to have a closed system is to protect both businesses and consumers from fake reviews.
The biggest problem with open review systems is that absolutely anyone can leave a review.
Naturally, businesses that use an open reviews platform could (and often do) write themselves glowing reviews, which is obviously completely unethical.
On the flip side, an open review system allows for any person (or business) to write fake reviews for their competitors in order to make them look bad - equally unethical.
A quick search on reddit reveals that some companies pay users to write reviews. Open review systems are clearly exploitable.
Clearly, there are some very basic problems with an open review system. However, these simple flaws have a much darker side that can easily be exploited. Let's look at some stories that have been shared about businesses and their experiences with open review platforms.
Knowing the reviews you're reading come from verified customers builds trust (Source: Futureshop shop profile)
According to some reports, some open-review system providers have been accused of creating public profiles for businesses that are not their customers. On it's surface, there is nothing wrong with that. The problems arise as soon as negative reviews start “showing up” for that business.
Every industry has its dark side. The business of online reviews is no different.
Some people suspect that salespeople for those reviews providers use these negative reviews to convince shop owners to pay for their service. These sales people reach out to this particular business to “warn” them about the impact negative reviews can have on their business.
Naturally, these shop owners are not allowed to address the negative reviews on this platform without paying for a subscription to that review provider. This is where things get a bit sticky: This could easily be interpreted as a strong-arm tactic to acquire new customers.
In the worst case scenario, it’s possible that the review company could secretly create these negative reviews themselves (or outsource them) and entice their would-be clients with a promise to delete them once the business has signed up with them.
In the best (i.e. less worse) case scenario, the shop's competitors could simply write negative reviews on the site, which would still force a legitimately good business to feel pressured into subscribing to this review platform just so they can respond and have some control over these negative reviews.
This might seem like a wild claim or a conspiracy theory, but it seems many business owners have had something like the “worst case scenario” situation happen to them.
The Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR), which is basically the BBC of Denmark, released multiple articles on small business owners feeling pressured into signing up with Trustpilot (also based in Denmark) in the last few years. Their stories reveal some questionable business practices from the review provider.
Apparently a small beauty clinic owner, Camilla Rude, realised she had a few negative reviews on her business’s Trustpilot profile. Because it is an open review system, she invited some happy customers to leave reviews for her site to offset the negative ones she had received shortly before. Trustpilot rejected 7 of these positive reviews, claiming that there were strong indications that these reviews came from the same device.
To be fair, the reasoning provided by Trustpilot actually sounds reasonable. There is definitely something suspicious about seven reviews coming from one device.
However, when some negative reviews popped up a few months later, Trustpilot claimed that “strong indications” showed that these negative reviews also came from the same device, yet allowed these reviews to be publicly posted.
It seems like a double standard, but when you consider that Camilla was not a Trustpilot member, you can draw your own conclusions as to why the negative reviews were allowed to be posted and the positive ones weren’t.
From a business perspective, the more negative reviews a business has, the more urgent it is for that company to take action and control their reputation.
The review provider that hosts those reviews has a very powerful argument to sell "access" to those reviews to shop owners - if they're not giving them the power to delete or hide negative reviews, then at the very least, they can give shop owners the power to respond to them.
It's no wonder that small business owners often feel like they are at the mercy of such review providers and some have gone as far as to compare them to a mafia.
Even after customers verified their purchases by sending proof of their transactions to the review provider, they were still denied the right to post their negative reviews.
Finally, another report from DR mentioned two separate studies that revealed shady practices from the review provider. One study performed by Dwarf researched the 50 most popular online stores in Denmark to compare their ratings on Trustpilot.
The results showed that the difference between the average ratings of a Trustpilot client and the ones who aren’t was noticeably large (5.8 vs 8.6). Is this an anomaly?
Well, the second study mentioned in this article compared the ratings of a company before they became a paying customer and their score after paying Trustpilot for their services. Some of the examples mentioned showed a change for Elgiganten going from 6.0 to 8.5, BavySam rises from 5.2 to 7.5 and Skoringen going from 3.3 to 8.2, with many of these shifts occurring practically overnight!
It is concerning that these review scores can seem increasingly misleading to consumers and can change so drastically as soon as a contract is signed. After all, reviews are meant to benefit consumers with unbiased feedback, not to protect businesses from the truth coming out.
When open review systems allow anyone to write a review, there are simply too many loopholes to allow companies to manipulate their reputation unethically.
As more articles, blog posts, and forum comments continue to be written on the topic, it is encouraging to know that the general public is becoming more aware as to what is happening here (and I didn’t even mention that buying reviews is a BIG business. Hint: bad idea!).
A Facebook group that lets business owners exchange reviews for companies they've never actually used.
By now, you've hopefully realized why working with an open review system isn't so great. The problem is that they are still collecting reviews on your behalf and you can't respond to them. Even worse, your star-rating in Google is being effected by this open reviews platform, killing your reputation and destroying traffic to your site.
Instead of feeling helpless, remember that it is an open-platform after all, so boosting your overall rating is possible if those negative reviews are balanced out by more positive reviews.
Using a reviews management software, like the Trusted Shops Reputation Manager, you can automatically schedule review request emails to your customers, thus boosting your overall rating on those open platforms.
Unhappy customers don't need extra motivation to share their opinions, but satisfied customers need to be reminded to share their experiences. Having a platform that sends out review requests for publication on multiple reviews platforms is a great way to boost your star-ratings across the web.
Generally speaking, you don't want really want to "hide" or delete negative reviews. Of course, you don't want to necessarily display them front and center either. However, it's important to remember that people who want to find negative reviews will specifically look for negative reviews so trying to hide them is kind of pointless.
As a business owner, this might give you nightmares, but it shouldn't. Why? Negative reviews are actually an opportunity to showcase your customer service skills. Everyone knows that running a business is difficult and sometimes mistakes happen. What many shoppers want to know is how a shop handles those mistakes when they happen.
Therefore, take the opportunity to take those reviews head on. If it's appropriate, apologize. If you got some valuable feedback, make sure to even thank them for sharing their opinions. If your shop owns up to its mistake and does right by the customer, then a negative review can end up being a blessing in disguise.
Check out our free whitepaper below on how to deal with negative reviews
Whether you find them flawed or malicious, an open reviews platform has too many downsides to be considered the right choice for your business. For a truly authentic reviews platform, you simply have to use a closed platform so that only verified customers can leave reviews for your shop.
For more information on Trusted Shops products, get in touch us today!