Dirty Rotten Tricks Video #5: The Testimonials Scam – Part 1
We’re all familiar with retailers using testimonials to sell products. They use them because consumers respond to what appears to be independent verification of their advertising claims. Whether it’s a glowing written review from “Mary H of Ohio” or lavish praise heaped by an attractive individual in a television commercial, testimonials sell products.
That’s the bottom line.
Of course, we can never verify or authenticate any of these testimonials, and even the most credulous of us might wonder if “Mary H of Ohio” really does exist. Could it be that the retailer is simply making them up?
Even if he (or she) is not, you can bet that only the comments from the most enthusiastic supporters ever see the light of day. Customers with ordinary or less than satisfactory experiences are never going to be featured in a retailer’s sales copy.
After all, there’s an inherent financial conflict interest involved.
That being said, the Internet has allowed retailers to take the “testimonials scam” to a whole new level.
That’s because it has allowed them to deliver testimonials independent of their own sales materials.
Let me explain…
Online, many people believe they can effectively research products by checking the product feedback and comments on respected sites not affiliated with the retailer in question.
That’s a bad idea.
In the video that accompanies this article, I clearly document how easy it is to solicit positive feedback for any product (the demonstration highlights a product that happens to be listed on Amazon.com, but it could be listed at any respected retailer), by using services like Microworkers, and paying third world workers a few quarters per action.
Only the most popular products at Amazon have more than a few hundred visitor ratings. For a few hundred dollars—almost nothing as far as a product manufacturer is concerned—I could create an overwhelmingly positive feedback profile for any product, giving the impression it is widely used, extremely popular and effective. I could even encourage the people I hired to comment on the friendliness and effectiveness of my customer service representatives.
What does this mean?
It means it’s very easy to “game the system”; to create artificially inflated positive feedback profiles for any product anywhere. And that takes us back to our comment at the beginning of this article…
You can’t trust any testimonial, visitor comment, or feedback, no matter where it is posted.
I know that some of you are going to be pretty disappointed by this information. Truth is, there is some value is genuine customer feedback and comments (although even genuine comments are anecdotal and should never replace a detailed analysis of a product’s ingredients and the science that may or may not support its claims). After all, that’s why we launched our Real-Customer-Comments.com web site in 2007.
It’s just that you can never be sure what is genuine and what is not.
Even we can’t, although we deal with this stuff everyday. And we know some of the people posting comments are definitely in the employ of the product retailer in question.
So what do we look for?
The absence of any specific details in a person’s feedback. A comment like, “wow, this product is amazing – I lost 10 pounds and kept it off” is extremely generic and could have been posted by just about anyone. So if you have to use feedback and testimonials in your research, look for specific details that suggest the person really has had some real world experience with the product in question.