Fake Shopify Reviews: What Are They & Should You Consider Them?
Has someone convinced you that gathering fake Shopify reviews will benefit your ecommerce business?
If so, you’ll want to read on as there are very few positives about fake reviews. In fact, there’s only one: in the short term, it may appear to some potential customers that you are the best thing since sliced bread.
But trying to “game” the system with fake Shopify reviews will only work against you in the long run. The cons vastly outweigh the pros.
Genuine five-star reviews are the social proof you need to establish credibility and build trust with would-be customers. Brightlocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey 2022 found that 77% of customers “always” or “regularly” read reviews when browsing for local businesses.
If fake reviews are part of your Shopify marketing strategy, you need to take a long, hard look at your business and start considering the steps needed to improve its quality so that you get so many great reviews from real customers that you don’t need fake ones.
Let’s take a closer look at fake reviews and what search engines, Shopify and you can do to stay on the right side of the line with your review strategy.
What are fake Shopify reviews?
Successful Shopify merchants understand the power of positive reviews, like this product page from the Manitobah Mukluks store:
Having people write fake Shopify reviews is a strategy employed by some businesses to try to boost credibility amongst potential customers. It is usually attempted by merchants who are new to the marketplace and struggling to compete with the businesses that have patiently built credibility and trust amongst their target audience.
Fake reviews written for your own store generally fall into three categories:
- Written by someone who has not used the product or service
- Written by some who is paid to write the review
- Written by someone who receives the product or service for free on the understanding that a positive review will follow
But there’s a darker side to fake reviews too: fake negative reviews.
Some ecommerce businesses pay fake reviewers to ruin the reputation of a competitor by leaving fake reviews on their store.
If a potential customer is comparing products between your business and a competitor and reads a damaging review of the competitor’s product, you can guess what might happen next: if all else is equal, the customer may favor you.
The business impact of fake Shopify reviews
Whether you’re the target of paid negative reviews or you pay reviewers to leave positive reviews about your own products/services, these activities can damage your Shopify business.
Consider what happened to one skincare brand that sells products through the Sephora website in late 2019…
Sephora is one of many makeup brands to use Shopify. One of its partner brands, Sunday Riley, was investigated and fined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for misleading consumers by posting fake reviews of the company’s products on the Sephora website. This was done at the CEO’s direction and the company failed to disclose that the reviewers were company employees!
In other words, employees of Sunday Riley were asked to create fake accounts through Sephora and leave glowing reviews on their products. This has damaged the Sunday Riley brand and, by extension, Sephora.
Brand trust takes a long time to build but can be shattered with one FTC ruling. Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said the following about fake reviews:
“Dishonesty in the online marketplace harms shoppers, as well as firms that play fair and square…posting fake reviews on shopping websites or buying and selling fake followers is illegal. It undermines the marketplace, and the FTC will not tolerate it.”
In another example of fake reviews seriously backfiring, Cure Encapsulations was caught paying for fake Amazon reviews to falsely advertise its products in 2019.
The company paid for positive reviews, claiming that the products it sold were “powerful appetite suppressants” and weight loss supplements. It wanted to back these claims up and keep the rating above 4.3/5 stars because high Amazon customer ratings can significantly boost sales.
But the FTC investigated the company and discovered the reviews to be unsubstantiated. The settlement included an agreement to never repeat such claims and a $12.8 million fine!
There have been many other settlements in the US in such fake review cases as they also violate the practices of the Advertising and Marketing Communications Code of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), which includes the US advertising legal frameworks.
What can search engines do about fake reviews?
It’s not only the FTC that you need to watch out for if you decide to engage in fake review solicitation. You will be in Google’s bad books too.
Ultimately, Google must protect the user experience and accuracy of its results pages to protect its brand. It recognizes that “reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased.”
So, including fake reviews on your Shopify website is a violation of Google’s terms of service. Google says this about it:
“Reviews are automatically processed to detect inappropriate content like fake reviews and spam. We may take down reviews that are flagged in order to comply with Google policies or legal obligations.”
Google’s policy towards “fake engagement” (as it is termed) can be summarized as follows:
Google is not letting this go any time soon. You can expect the platform to ramp up its checks with more elaborate measures to identify fake reviews as its technology develops even further (especially AI technology) and it develops further review guidelines for users to abide by.
A Google penalty for fake reviews is not something you want to happen to your Shopify store. That could severely impact rankings, traffic, and sales. You could even face a Google ban. Think twice (or more) before going down that road.
What can Shopify do about fake reviews?
Besides violating FTC and Google guidelines, fake reviews also breach Shopify’s Terms of Service.
Fake reviews can damage the Shopify brand and the company understandably wants to protect against the minority spoiling it for the majority.
According to Shopify, your store can be shut down at any time if you are caught:
- Running a random review generator on your store or
- Uploading fake reviews through an app
What can you do about fake Shopify reviews?
First up, understand that an odd bad review from customers should be expected. Not everyone can enjoy a stellar user experience every time.
Most shoppers understand this and will not be deterred by a bad review or two if there are enough positive reviews to drown them out. Customers also understand that it’s easier for an unhappy customer to lash out with a bad review than it is for a happy customer to take the time to leave a positive one.
Customers are also savvier now about spotting fake online reviews. They are not so easily fooled and make allowances for the competition potentially leaving fake reviews. However, if they spot you intentionally trying to mislead them with fake positive reviews you have paid for, they will be far less forgiving.
Genuine negative reviews should be responded to and learned from — so that you can improve your products, service and support. Feedback is an essential part of the growth process for ecommerce stores.
So, if you have paid someone to leave fake reviews on your Shopify store, remove them immediately. If you are a target for fake negative reviews on your Shopify store, consider the following:
- Respond in a friendly way and offer a full refund. Even if there was no purchase, it shows that you have the best interests of customers at heart. If you can prove that the negative review is a fake one posted by the competition, consider reporting them to Shopify.
- Identify “verified buyers” next to reviews. Every genuine customer who leaves a review on the Allbirds Shopify store is identified as such, as you can see here:
- Gather plenty of legitimate reviews using a dedicated app. The more legitimate positive reviews you have, the less a few fake negative ones will matter. Drowning out fake reviews with happy customers is good for business. Reviews are so important that you should consider using a dedicated app like Fera, which helps you verify, manage, gather and display your reviews so that fake reviews are no longer an issue.
Fake reviews are just not worth it!
There’s no doubting the importance of social proof to ecommerce businesses. But fake social proof can derail your Shopify store in the long run and should not be an option for you.
Your customers and potential customers won’t mind a poor review or two if there are enough genuinely positive reviews to compensate.
The focus of your Shopify business should be on improving your products, marketing strategy, customer experience and support — not on trying to “game” the system by fabricating reviews.
Collect real review with a great app like Loox instead.