The Department of Consumer Affairs in collaboration with the Bureau of Indian Standards recently launched the new framework for safeguarding and protecting consumer interest from fake and deceptive reviews on e-commerce platforms.
While the framework as of now calls for voluntary compliance, the government will consider making it a mandatory practice if in case the menace of alleged fake reviews continues to mislead consumers.
According to Bhoomi Doshi, Account Lead, Schbang, this decision has come right on time since it's the need of the hour. “Highlighting paid reviews will help build trust between the brand and the consumer. A shopper will be able to get accurate insights on products and services,” she said.
“Most of us shop online today and while trying out new products and services, we rely on reviews on e-comm platforms. Misleading reviews not only lead to a loss of trust in the brand but also reduces a consumer’s lifetime value,” added Doshi.
Additionally, Doshi also went on to highlight that when a paid review is done in the right manner, it would give the brand expert authority and would still be perceived positively - similar to Instagram, where influencers have now started to mention paid activations.
As per Anshuman Misra, eMarket and strategic partnership expert, LS Digital, online reviews play a vital role in finalising purchase decisions on e-commerce platforms as it is by relying on them that the consumers go ahead without any opportunity to physically view or examine the product.
“Some consumers rely on reviews posted on platforms to see the opinion and experiences of users who have already purchased the goods or services. Fake/paid reviews and star ratings can mislead consumers into buying online products and platforms can witness a rise in consumer complaints if the products are not genuine,” Misra added.
Furthermore, Misra also went on to state that the advantages of disclosing paid reviews on e-commerce platforms would boost the platform’s credibility - since they will be providing visibility on paid reviews for the goods and services offered by the channel. “It will also help consumers in decision-making as they will know it’s a purchased review beforehand,” he added.
In the views of Muskan Mirwani, Group Account Manager, Django Digital, there might be some fluctuations as the sales and revenue might drop for the e-commerce platforms initially, but if the malpractice of posting fake reviews stops, it would be advantageous for the consumers as they’ll then be able to make informed purchase decisions basis the genuine reviews they come across on these platforms.
Furthermore, she also added, “Highlighting paid reviews will lead to transparency and instil consumer trust and faith in the marketplaces.”
As per Siddharth Devnani, Co-Founder and Director, SoCheers, “The advertising and marketing industry has been successfully self-regulating for decades now, but there is always scope for improvement in certain areas. Hence, the guidelines issued by the Department of Consumer Affairs which require voluntary disclosure of paid customer reviews is a welcome move.”
“It's a step in the right direction to protect the interests of the ‘aam janta’ from organisations that want to mislead,” he added.
Moreover, Devnani also went on to point out that allowing the companies to choose and opt in initially is a smart move by the government. He said, “The e-commerce players' compliance with these norms can help them solidify their consumer-centric approach. So, it will be a win-win!”
Commenting as to how retention marketing is one of the key focuses for most digital marketing agencies today as it is an important part of KPIs while managing an e-commerce business, Schbang’s Doshi said that digital marketing agencies will definitely have to be smart in how they choose to showcase paid reviews and also regulate the claims they make.
“They can control the narrative of these reviews and use it as a medium to communicate information necessary to promote a product or service, as Google also supports e-commerce companies with more organic reviews in terms of higher rankings,” she said.
Similarly, SoCheers’ Devnani also pointed out that it's not easy to say that paid reviews have no place in the marketing strategies of an e-commerce brand as they're essential in driving an audience to discover new products and services.
“Even if paid, these reviews sometimes offer a real and genuine viewpoint to them. Organisations should definitely not shy away from this, just make the process more honest,” he added.
While commenting on some of the challenges that e-commerce players might face in ensuring compliance with the BIS framework and disclosing the paid reviews, Django Digital’s Mirwani said, “There might be a drop in the sales of the e-commerce platforms initially, but in the longer run, these guidelines will help the e-commerce platforms build a force of more trustworthy sellers and loyal customers who put their trust in the platform.”
“Another important challenge to be factored into is the implementation of these guidelines. While I strongly believe the guidelines are straightforward and laid down to the tee, however, its implementation needs to be equally strong and effective,” she added.
On the contrary, Schbang’s Doshi went on to assert that one of the major challenges that e-commerce platforms would now face would be to encourage their users to post reviews on the platforms so as to increase their organic reviews count.
“Our role as digital marketers would be to come up with strategies to make this change. We can incentivise the users by adding reward points to their wallets or giving them additional discounts on their next purchase. This also acts as a great initiative to encourage repeat purchases,” she ascertained.
LS Digital’s Misra also highlighted that most of the platforms provide an online reviews section for engaging customers on their channels since e-commerce players are aware of the fact that a majority of the customers read reviews before they buy any product or service.
“Customers are even willing to pay more if they see a product that has plenty of positive reviews thus increasing the profit margins for the companies as well as for the platform,” he said.
Misra also emphasised that in order to increase their sales, e-commerce businesses use positive reviews as social proof and to even out the effect of negative reviews.
“This can also be treated as a channel for customer support for e-commerce players. Platforms with active reputation management strategies tend to reap the benefits like higher trust and higher profit via paid reviews. Hence, it will be a big-time challenge for the platforms who actively participate in this activity and can eventually take a hit on their profit margins,” Misra said.
When asked how the menace of fake or paid-review posts impacts e-commerce platforms, Django Digital’s Mirwani went on to share one of the examples of her encounters with fake reviews in the past.
“While we were working with a personal care brand last year, we realised that the competitors were seeding in fake reviews to influence the purchase decisions of buyers coming to certain marketplaces. Without any biases, this situation might be faced by various other brands as well and the new BIS guidelines just help safeguard in these situations,” she said.
On a slightly similar note, Schbang’s Doshi also said that a lot of brands have tried to present a false narrative in the recent past which has led to terrible online shopping experiences.
“It’s usually said, your brand is not what you say but what your consumers have to say. But, we all know about the ‘what you order vs what you receive’ meme,” she smirked.
Furthermore, she also emphasised that when any brand acquires a user and achieves their first purchase, the consumer is unlikely to return if they’ve had a bad shopping experience due to misleading reviews.
Upon being questioned as to how digital marketing agencies foresee the new move by the government, Schbang’s Doshi replied, “Brands that especially invest a lot in Bot reviews and Paid reviews would find it difficult to keep up with their malpractices. But, a shift that I foresee is that more and more brands would now focus on incentivising their users to post genuine and organic reviews.”
Django Digital’s Mirwani also struck a similar tone on the matter and said, “We’re all in for making the entire review structure more transparent and clear to the public eye. In the long run, it’s going to bring in more customer-base to the e-commerce industry, especially with potential customers who’re otherwise sceptical of shopping online.”
“It’s a viable decision on the government’s end since fake reviews can tarnish the image of a well-established brand within no time. Eventually, this move will be beneficial to all, be it for the platform, consumers or even businesses as there will be very little or no scope of misleading information being mentioned on the platform,” Misra said.
Moreover, LS Digital’s Misra also emphasised that with voluntary compliance with the BIS guidelines in place, consumers will not be distracted by unwanted reviews and can make their decision on their own while not falling prey to fallacious information.
On a concluding note, SoCheers’ Devnani also asserted that with the new government norms and BIS guidelines in place, he hopes to see the companies following them not only for the sake of compliance but also in spirit.
“It might be tempting to find loopholes, but it would be appreciated if the audience's sensibilities are respected. E-commerce platforms should focus on providing a great product or service and let the consumers make an informed choice,” he concluded.