At the beginning of October, a new bestseller stormed the charts. Everything Bonsai! was a surprise hit in the horticulture category on Amazon. However it soon became clear that all was not as it seemed.

Everything Bonsai! was littered with spelling mistakes and needed a good prune. It had also been written in three days in Bangalore, India for the princely sum of £65. The book was part of a sting carried out by the Sunday Times to highlight the prevalence of fake reviews on Amazon. Shortly after, Amazon sued 1,140 reviewers.

This weekend, the paper reported on another investigation carried out by Which? Travel magazine, which highlighted that TripAdvisor was failing to stop blatantly fake reviews from appearing on the site. The reporters posted fake reviews and fake businesses on the site to see whether TripAdvisor would notice and ban them. It didn’t.

“After just one fake review, the businesses started climbing TripAdvisor’s rankings. The fake walking tour leapt to No 392 out of 505 in the Tours and Activities in London, on the back of one ‘very good’ review.”

'Until it creates a more thorough vetting process, the truth is you can’t trust TripAdvisor.' - Highlight to share -

The magazine’s findings clearly demonstrated that TripAdvisor were failing to protect consumers. In one instance reporters alerted the site’s fact-checkers that both the review and the B&B reviewed were fictitious, but “TripAdvisor ruled that the posting complied with its guidelines and refused to remove the comment.”

Matt Stevens, a senior researcher for Which? magazine said: “TripAdvisor make millions in profits from a business model which relies on your trust, yet its fraud detection systems are clearly failing. Until it creates a more thorough vetting process, the truth is you can’t trust TripAdvisor.”

There are solutions for businesses looking to harness the power of authentic reviews. - Highlight to share -

The scandal has of course made its way on to Twitter; a campaign was launched to force TripAdvisor to only use verified customer reviews using the hashtag #noreceiptnoreview. This campaign shows how much consumers value reviews and their authenticity but also shows how important trust is to the whole process.

TripAdvisor has been quite combative in response:

Granted, restaurants and hotels aren’t like other purchases – there are a lot of places you can book them (telephone, OpenTable etc) so often neither review companies nor the restaurants, bars or hotels can identify who their customers are. And although TripAdvisor may have 300+ content specialists, it’s still letting fake reviews slip through the net. It’s in TripAdvisor’s interests to have lots of reviews.

That’s where the problem lies. But there are solutions for businesses looking to harness the power of authentic reviews.

Trust is hard-won but easy to lose. - Highlight to share -

Either big businesses like TripAdvisor and Yelp use their power to consolidate the booking journey, or it’s worth investing in an independent adjudicator to ensure reviews on your site are genuine and useful for other potential customers.

TripAdvisor has been building up its reputation – which is essential for its success – since it launched in 2000. It found out recently a truth we’ve long known: trust is hard-won but easy to lose.

2015: the year consumers rejected fake reviews?