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Fake and Dishonest Reviews, Undeclared Sponsorships, and Bias – How Do You Know Who to Trust?

One of the things I am always saying is you need multiple sources of information for those who want to make informed purchase decisions. As a huge source for products that have already launched, I like to read reviews. We all know some of them are fake. The overtly fake ones are easy to spot. Brands will usually encourage their employees or people they pay to write thoughtful, detailed, relatable reviews. That makes them harder to spot. I strive for all the same things when I review anything, but my goal is simple. Give people the information and let them do with it what they may. If someone intentionally reviews something other than the exact way it performed, or worse, writes a review on something they have not even tried, they have failed at their only task. You had one job! Write a helpful review. Unless all information is correct, you are intentionally misleading someone who could buy based on your recommendation. That is beyond uncool.

The latest leak from a former Sunday Riley employee is a reminder that even companies with stellar reputations for amazing products are not against using a fake review to sway a purchase. One of the reasons I write less reviews on forums than I used to is I noticed a lot of my reviews were never published. That is more likely when it is a negative review. It has happened when I’ve rated things positively though. When I take 30 minutes writing a review for a product, and the gatekeeper prevents it from publishing, I am reluctant to write another review on the site. What this means is more legitimate reviews are not getting published and more false reviews are. Fake reviewers will stop at the gate and reword if necessary. Some legitimate reviewers will as well, but there are times when we give up after multiple attempts to publish a thoughtful review.

Sunday Riley is not the first or the last company to ask employees to write fake reviews. It really is just the most recent company to get caught. When I frequented Beautytalk on Sephora (now the Beauty Insider Community), I witnessed several brands doing this. Some disclosed they worked for, got paid, or received gratis from the brands, and I am okay with this. Others made it seem like they were real customers only for one of the Beautytalk sleuths to discover they worked for the brand they were raving about. Every time that happened, I wanted to stop supporting the brand. Dishonesty is a huge issue to me. The problem is so many brands were guilty that I ultimately decided a lot more than we catch probably do it. Punishing a brand for the actions of a few employees seems harsh unless the drama implicates the owner or CEO herself. Of course that is my take, and I completely respect different views. Many are saying Sunday herself knew employees wrote fake reviews, which of course is not okay, if true.

People need to do a better job of disclosing when they get paid, work for, or receive something for free from a brand in the review. Some leave this information out, because they know certain people will purposely avoid reading reviews where the person did not pay for the product. That is their right though. If someone only wants reviews from people who paid for the product, you do not have the right to make them read your review under false pretenses. Disclose and let the reader decide if s/he wants to read or trust your review based on all relevant information. I have never accepted a payment or sponsorship from a brand, and I always mention when something is given to me in every review. If a sponsorship comes along that I cannot pass up, I will let you know. When others do not do the same, I do not want to hear their opinion. While it is completely possible the reviewer is giving an honest opinion on the product, if she does not disclose it was given to her, it speaks to credibility. The phrase falsus in uno falsus in omnibus comes to mind. It is also synonymous with once a liar, always a liar.

We all have different wants and needs in our products. Some of you will love things I hate and vice versa. This means of those duped by fake reviews, some are bound to really love the product and others will hate it. I love reading reviews to see what worked, what didn’t, possible allergic reactions, etc. When you work for a brand, you are likely to have bias (one way or the other depending on how you feel about your employer). Readers need to know of any possible conflict of interest when they read your review. If you write a glowing review and admit you work for the company in the review, you are already more trustworthy to me than someone who leaves out that she works there, writes the same review, and we find out later. Should you work for a company that forces you to write reviews, tell your boss you will only write an honest one after you’ve had enough time to test the product and mention that you work there. A legit company with integrity should accept your terms.

Now, that more of us are aware of fake reviews, what can you do? My favorite method for discovering new things is through samples. Deal shoppers should already have a ton of these on hand. You can always try to get more whenever possible. If you get to sample something before you buy it, you will have an idea of how it works for you. Swatching is another great way to test things before you buy them. While swatching does not tell the complete story, I have avoided purchases many times based off how awful it swatched. Find someone you can trust and ask that person what she thought of the product, whether it is a sister, a blogger, or a sales associate. You know that associate who truly seems to help you find what is great for you! They are out there, and I have met a great deal of them. In other words, don’t give blind trust to anyone. Let them earn your trust over time. Of course that is harder with reviews from people we do not know, so always let reviews from strangers only account for part of your purchase decision.

For those who make purchases in the US, you can always return something if it does not work. Of course, some deal shoppers, like myself, usually buy things far in advance and the return window has closed long before you try it. Between that and hating the hassle of returns, I give whatever I can to friends and family when I try something and dislike it. Just because I dislike it does not mean the person I am giving it to won’t. A prime example is a full-size setting spray that dried out my skin I had only used five times. My niece who has oily skin loves it. There are no one-size fits all products. The worst thing you can do is let the item sit unused in your collection. If you purchased something awful (whether as the result of a considerate or fake review), get rid of it and move onto the next thing if possible. You could always finish it because you paid your hard-earned money for it. Unless I really hate something, I tend to finish the things I spend a lot on. Just take a look at my empties to see how often I do this.

What are your thoughts on this? Let me know below. See other review articles. View my main page for the guide map to the site and deeper deal exploration.

notcreative View All

I'm Kimberly. Shopping is always more fun when I've found the best deal available, so I am always on the hunt. My father instilled that in me, and I love that I carry a piece of him. Sometimes, my husband and sons (13 and 8) let me shop for them, too. They do not use as many beauty products as I do. We can all benefit from nice products, even though their routine ends with moisturizer. That is when I can convince my 13-year-old to apply it.

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