What does invited mean on Trustpilot reviews? What is this?
What does invited mean on Trustpilot reviews? I studied nine million reviews left for 198,000 businesses on the Trustpilot UK website to reveal how some businesses are deceiving consumers.
This article explains how they do it and and reveals the worst offenders. I also explain why, I believe, Trustpilot plays a significant role in allowing this manipulation to continue.
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What does invited mean on Trustpilot reviews?
A recent study by BrightLocal showed that 86% of consumers consider online reviews when making a purchase. 68% agreed that positive reviews make it more likely they will buy from the business; while 40% say that negative reviews make it less likely.
The vast majority of companies don’t manipulate their online reviews. However, consumers should be able to rely on this information when making important purchasing decisions.
When companies manipulate reviews it has a detrimental effect on both consumers and those honest businesses that may appear less attractive in comparison.
Although businesses owners found guilty of review fraud could potentially face a prison term of up to 10 years, prosecutions and convictions are rare and seldom policed.
In this post, I reveal the methods these businesses use to help you spot this manipulation and reveal the worst offenders. I also explain how Trustpilot contributes to this manipulation to the detriment of consumers and small business owners alike.
What is Review Gating?
Review Gating is the process of filtering customers before asking them to leave a review for your business. The aim is to encourage reviews from only those customers you believe had a positive experience with your company and request private feedback (or none at all) from those who had a negative experience.
Although Review Gating doesn’t entirely remove the possibility of negative comments, it significantly reduces the ratio of negative to positive reviews. Over time, negative reviews are pushed deeper into the review feed, while the company’s Trustscore rating remains positive.
Most of the major review publishing platforms, including Trustpilot and Google, warn against this illegal practice in their guidelines but take little or no action against companies found to be in breach.
How do businesses use Review Gating?
This internal memo shown below from Yell UK (formerly Yellow Pages) reveals how staff are incentivised to “ask every happy customer to write a review on Trustpilot for Yell” and to not ask if “there’s any risk [they] may leave a negative review”. Yell rewards its staff with £10 for every 5-star review and £5 for every 4-star review posted.
This memo (received from a Yell whistleblower) is a classic example of Review Gating. Despite this memo being forwarded on to Trustpilot, none of Yell’s reviews were removed from its platform. Yell’s TrustScore rating remains equally unaffected.
Some businesses even use automated review management software to analyse email communications with customers, internal complaints records and the history of product returns. The software then issues a review invitation to only those customers most likely to post a positive review for the company.
Should invited reviews be banned?
I performed an analysis of 9 million reviews posted on Trustpilot for businesses that invited reviews from their customers.
- The average star rating for all organic (uninvited) reviews was 2.87.
- The average star rating for all invited reviews was 4.57.
Trustpilot claim, “Generally we find that organic reviews tend to sway more negatively because consumers are more likely to be motivated to seek out the opportunity to share their voice if they have had a bad experience. By contrast, invited reviews, both automated and manual, tend to encourage those who have had a good experience to share their thoughts, when they may not have thought to do so without being prompted.”
It is true that organic reviews sway more negatively than invited reviews. However, this says more about the manipulation of invited reviews than it does about the nature of organic reviews.
The fact that the average invited review rating is 4.57, strongly suggests that it is invited reviews that paint a false picture of how most people feel about a company.
See the image below showing the stark difference between organic and invited reviews for Hermes UK. This difference is common for most companies inviting reviews.
Trustpilot has now banned manual review invitations from its platform aware that this process is prone to widespread manipulation. Trustpilot refuses to do the same for automatic invited reviews because its business model depends on the income this feature provides.
It is inevitable that some businesses will attempt to manipulate their Trustpilot rating. The more serious issue is the flaw in Trustpilot’s system which gives invited reviews and organic reviews equal weight.
Firms able to boost Trustpilot ratings using dubious tactics, Which finds?
Faith in Trustpilot’s review website is being undermined by firms using dubious tactics to boost their review scores, a Which? investigation has found.
The consumer champion found that Sykes Holiday Cottages, one of the UK’s largest holiday rental companies, racked up thousands of five-star ratings on the review site at a time when holidays were banned due to the coronavirus lockdown and it was being widely panned by its customers for withholding refunds after bookings were cancelled.
On further investigation, Which? uncovered evidence suggesting that the firm may not have been inviting all of its customers to leave a review in March or April, a time when many customers were struggling to get a refund from the firm. Some disgruntled customers told Which? at the end of May that they had still not been asked to leave a review.
Meanwhile, some companies also appear to be taking advantage of a system which allows them to challenge negative reviews to effectively censor criticism. Kiwi.com has managed to get 80 per cent of the negative reviews it has flagged over the last year removed from the site.
Questions about the integrity of reviews on Trustpilot come as the UK’s competition regulator investigates several major websites that display online reviews and are particularly concerning as ratings from the website also feed in to Google ‘seller review scores’, where they are relied on by millions of consumers around the world.
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