Online shops, price comparison sites and review sites are being put under pressure to put tighter procedures in place to prevent the practice of fake reviews becoming more widespread. 

At the centre of the row are reputation management agencies that are paid by companies to boost the ratings of their products in a bid to cover up negative reviews posted by genuine customers. 

Some agencies are even paid by hotels and authors to post negative reviews to discredit their rivals.  Meanwhile, some price comparison sites have been criticised by the FSA for their use of sponsored results that confuse customers.

Mike Harty, founder and COO of new social shopping site Shopow (Shopper Power) that is committed to giving impartial advice says: “The threat of dishonest customer reviews is a major concern.  Our industry is facing a tough battle to keep product manufacturers in check and increasingly sophisticated measures are needed to do this.

“Prioritising the reviews of your social networks is a key step.  Various studies show that shoppers are more likely to trust the recommendations of friends so their reviews should be the ones at the forefront.  The unique Social Sorting algorithm used by Shopow brings democratisation to the retail web but in a much more trustworthy way.”

Shopow is a new type of social shopping engine that aggregates thousands of retailers and millions of products across all areas of consumer goods. Not only does this allow users to compare goods by criteria such as price, retailer, service and delivery, it also integrates various social functions so shoppers can find all the information they need to make the right decisions when buying online.

Mike met Kevin Flood, co-founder of the site, at Leeds University where they were studying business management, with a heavy focus on marketing. Their common interest in business drew them together as Mike was avidly selling things on eBay and financing his way through university.

Mike raised a handsome profit from shipping cameras from the Far East and selling them onlune inspired and encouraged both him and Kevin to start investigating the possibility of an online business venture.

Once the pair had finished university they drew up a list of about 20 new business ideas and the internet theme seemed to feature heavily.

Their site currently has 3,500 members and has so far signed up 10,000 businesses to sell products through its site, including John Lewis, PC World and Asda.

Through each sale on their site, the pair get between four and 12 per cent, and they've managed to secure enough funding to launch a site in the US in the autumn.

The pair decided upon the creation of a highly personalised search engine and then as they began to search the sector they saw a massive gap in the online shopping market. The growth potential could also be huge, as online shopping grows in popularity and consumers seek a “one stop shop” providing fast access to the best deals and products, as voted by members of the public.

Mike continues: “When you see a friend’s review, you instantly know it is free of commercial skew, is honest and most importantly, completely impartial.  Too many reviewers hide behind anonymous screen names online, and as such there is a clear opportunity for unscrupulous companies to really influence rankings.  It doesn’t surprise me at all that the online image managers are getting involved in this practice, because currently the whole system revolves around an overall star rating.  When you add a personalised layer on top, that rating becomes a reference point which you can check your friends’ opinion against.  So instead of the rating been the focus, the friend’s review is.”

The idea of social shopping was emphasised early on as a key concept as it highlights the natural evolution of the social web. Kevin and Mike trust each other’s opinion in business and the same rule applies when shopping.

Social shopping opens a whole new possibility for internet shoppers to find advice and recommendations that they know are trustworthy.

Femalefirst Taryn Davies

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