With companies like Amazon making the move to ban incentivized reviews, the power shift from brands to consumers is more apparent than ever.

These new policies, aimed at eliminating potentially biased content, embrace the consumer-centered mindset of knowledge and brand transparency and are a clear and calculated move away from the brands-centered or “pay-to-play” mindset of yesterday.

Modern consumers are well-researched and more skeptical than ever, making it imperative for every brand to have a truly transparent presence online.

At ConsumerAffairs, we wanted to look a little deeper into the nature of bias and trustworthiness, so we created a study that had consumers analyze two similar restaurant reviews, one slightly negative and one slightly positive, and looked to see if there was a difference in impression when the consumer thought the review was incentivized.

Participants were surveyed on a few different variables, including:

  1. The star-rating of the review
  2. The perceived trustworthiness of the review
  3. The likelihood they would choose to eat at the restaurant based on the review

Are positive people more trustworthy?

When people knew the reviewer was not paid or incentivized, the positive review was seen as more trustworthy than the negative review. This finding showcases a key difference between paid and unpaid reviews. When a review is paid for or incentivized in any way, the review was considered automatically less trustworthy, regardless of the sentiment. However, when incentives are off the table, people tend to perceive more potential for bias when a review leans more toward the negative. Positive reviews, just not the pandering kind, appear to be held in higher regard.

The perception of bias

The survey asked participants to specify what specific incentives would most affect the trustworthiness of a review. Basically, at what point would the individual perceive or assume bias in the content of the review based on the incentive given? The lowest consumer tolerance for incentives came when a product was given for free in exchange for a review, with almost one-third (32%) of those surveyed saying it would bias a review to the point of being untrustworthy.

One of the biggest takeaways from the study was that bias of any kind, whether negative or positive, made the content feel less trustworthy to the consumer. Consumers are looking for honest feedback from real people and don’t need a perfect 5-star review to feel that a brand or product is trustworthy.

While it can be tempting to want to increase the number of reviews for your brand by any means necessary, focusing on quality is going to serve your brand much better in the long run.

Click here to download the full report: The Trustworthiness of Incentivized Reviews.