The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is reportedly investigating Sports Direct over allegations it has blocked bad reviews. 

But can companies ever be justified in removing consumers’ real opinions?

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the CMA have previously slammed brands for indulging in manipulative review practices in an online review and endorsements report revealing that up to 80% of consumers believed that online reviews are genuine, and that readers relied on the review system to make quicker decisions.

The online reviews industry is estimated to be worth £23bn, with nearly 95% of shoppers consulting reviews during their browsing and buying journey.

Retailers know they need to have reviews but exposing slipped customer service, shaky product quality, unexpected price points and inconvenient delivery is a risk.

Sports Direct probe

At the weekend, the Daily Mail reported on an investigation it ran into Sports Direct. Submitting a selection of positive and negative reviews to its website, journalists discovered that only their positive reviews were approved, while mildly critical opinions, such as ‘The quality wasn’t as good as I had hoped,’ were rejected without reasonable explanation, according to the report.

Whether Sports Direct broke any rules remains subject to the CMA’s probe.

Separately, it is worth noting that in instances where retailers write their own reviews, post fake reviews onto third-party review sites and construct negative reviews to damage the reputation of their competitors are unlawful.

And, in a move to regulate the industry, strict guidelines have come into force requiring brands and third-parties to publish the full, unabridged review of their services to comply with the law. The CMA has said it will investigate any business that falls foul of this and will take enforcement action where necessary.

But brands don’t need to fear negative reviews in the way they appear to be doing. A joint study between PowerReviews and NorthWestern University recently conducted found that showcasing negative reviews is actually good for business.

Ironically, an average star rating drives more conversions that a five star rating, highlighting that consumers are more likely to believe a balance between good and bad reviews.

Consumers understand every product can’t be the cheapest, fastest, highest quality and treat glowing reviews with scepticism. While brands should never aim for negative reviews, it’s important they embrace them.

Negative reviews build trust

It’s never acceptable for a brand to not publish a review because it was negative and it’s equally not acceptable to remove a negative review or edit it, just because it paints the product or service in a bad light. The only time a brand can be justified removing a negative review is if it breaches its moderation guidelines on the grounds of fraud or profanity for example.

Brand’s need to remember that the presence of negative reviews builds trust with consumers and makes overall product and service review data more credible.

On the flip-side, Amazon recently began a lawsuit to sue thousands of its marketplace sellers for promoting fake reviews.

By taking no action, the online goliath ran the risk of breaking the law, and losing the confidence of its shoppers. This falsified content culture which is beginning to rear its ugly head is denying consumers the benefit of choosing the product that would best suit their needs. It’s also harming brand reputations.

As such, brands need to tighten up their online review policing to weed out fake reviews or face legal action and consumer backlash.

Retailers need to adopt a similarly transparent attitude to reviews, applauding great reviews, and respond strategically to negative ones while also seeking the support from their review provider to weed out genuine fakes, or untrustworthy content.

Theresa O’Neil is senior marketing VP of PowerReviews