Over the last several years, obtaining ratings and reviews has become a key element of marketing a brand or a product. Ratings and review information can now be found everywhere; on a company’s own website, manufacturer websites and websites that syndicate reviews for a wide range of companies and products. Consumers utilize the information as key step in the research and buying process. As a result, companies have come to realize the importance of obtaining ratings and reviews, especially positive ones.
Until recently this source of information seemed fairly trustworthy to consumers. Unfortunately, several recent news stories regarding an Amazon merchant, VIP Deals, may threaten this. VIP Deals established a program to solicit top ratings from customers, using financial incentives (VIP Deals Astroturfing Amazon 5 Star). The company essentially rebated a large portion of a product’s purchase price in exchange for a customer’s five-star rating of the item.
Does this signal a turning point for the role of ratings and reviews in marketing, and in the research process for consumers? Will consumers continue trust the ratings and reviews from other consumers? Can companies continue to use marketing programs to solicit ratings and reviews without risking negative misperceptions about their practices?