Is Trustpilot now biased towards negative reviews in order to rebuild their own reputation?

November 2018

Back in April this year, Trustpilot was hit by a somewhat predictable scandal when a BBC 5 Live investigation revealed that fake 5 star reviews were being traded on eBay – which an investigator was able to purchase. Of course few people – be they working in marketing or just Joe Public – were especially shocked by the revelation, as there’s long been widespread suspicion about the authenticity of all reviews.

For context, online reviews – and more specifically great online reviews – are now an essential part of most B2C brands’ marketing armouries, and whether they trade online, offline or both. Indeed, there’s a plethora of research data available online, with some of this suggesting that 90% plus of consumers now regularly reference online reviews before purchasing.

In the same way that TripAdvisor now dominates the review market for the travel and leisure industry, Trustpilot does so for retail. In fact, almost any TV ad for retail brands selling high ticket purchases such as sofas, TVs and washing machines, will proudly tell you what their Trustpilot rating is.

Given this market strength and the largely quantifiable importance of online reviews, a few years back I proposed to my largest client – a kitchen manufacturer and retailer – that we not only fully embrace the principle of encouraging customers to post reviews, but pay for Trustpilot’s enhanced platform to make the process more seamless for customers and give us SEO benefits. My client agreed to this, and currently pay over £7k per annum for the privilege.

But I have to tell you that the relationship with Trustpilot hasn’t entirely been a happy one. For example, I’ve been the target of their pushy sales people who, with the knowledge of what I do, have tried to get me to spend even more of my client’s money with them and get some of my other client’s signed-up. But the absolute worst aspect of the relationship has been when we’ve twice, and twice only, asked them to take down one star reviews that were patently unfair and malicious. On each occasion, and despite being able to provide ample evidence that the reviews were dodgy to say the least (with our position also balanced by the handful of entirely fair negative reviews that we’ve taken on the chin), their ‘compliance team’ haven’t budged an inch. In fact, the more we’ve pushed for the reviews to be taken down, the more bullshit reasons they’ve provided for why they won’t. And to make matters worse, as a response to the initial complaint we lodged each time, they simply replied with a totally generic and entirely patronising standard copy-and-paste email which even starts with ‘Dear Sir / Madam’ – I mean really, that’s what you get for £7k per year.

I’ve discussed the situation with my client on a detailed level, and we can only conclude that, perhaps, Trustpilot has taken a stance of siding with reviewers – and even when the reviewer is blatantly trying it on and lying. Why would Trustpilot do that? Well when, as a review site, you’ve also been the victim of poor reviews (how ironic is that . . .) as a result of allowing fake 5 star reviews, then it stands to reason that a fairly smart way to redress the balance and regain credibility is to ensure that your paying customers (e.g. my client) get as many bad reviews as possible.

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