Home Management Matters No more fake customer reviews! Local startup is putting an end to...

No more fake customer reviews! Local startup is putting an end to astroturfing by sockpuppets


Independent reviews are the best way for people to decide where to buy online. The problem is finding truly independent reviews that have been written by genuine customers, rather than sockpuppeting by employees or website agents.

A local startup, StartHere, has developed an interesting way to not only provide discounts to customers but, to also gather genuine feedback about their online shopping experience.

The business model is interesting. StartHere collects a clip of the sale on purchases made at the stores it is affiliated with. That’s not a new model. But, it gets interesting. Rather than pocketing the entire clip, the company returns the majority of the money to the customers as a cash back offer. So, after purchase, the customer receives their share of this bounty back in their back account.

At this point, StartHere knows that the customer has made a genuine purchase from a store. It is at this point that the customer is asked to provide a genuine report on the experience and provide feedback about the online store.

And thus, the Verified Store Review system was created.

“We wanted our members to feel confident about buying from the StartHere range of stores. And, we found that we were in the unique position to be able to verify a transaction, this allowed us to make verified reviews a reality,” said Simon Szewach, CEO of StartHere.

“Our members love telling us about their shopping experiences and we wanted them to be able to share it with other StartHere members, whether positive or negative because we knew it was genuine feedback about their online shopping experience,” Szewach continued.

How has Verified Store Reviews been received by online retailers?

As the reviews are displayed whether they are positive or negative, it’s not too hard to imagine that storeowners may not be happy to participate in the system.

“Partner stores have reactive positively to the Verified Reviews initiative,” explains Szewach. “Merchants care about their conversion rats and, they know the power of customer reviews. So, the merchants are engaged and view the reviews as an opportunity to boost conversion rates.”

Customers have also been generous with their acceptance of the system. About ten days after they have completed a transaction, they are contacted and asked to provide feedback on the experience.

“Our members have really embraced the reviews. They see them as a useful tool when evaluating suitable stores to purchase from. Around 35 per cent of customers invited to provide feedback, have done so,” said Szewach. “The good news is that 95 per cent of those reviews have reported a positive experience.”

When negative comments are made, StartHere takes steps to investigate.

“We publish all fair comments that are made by our customers. If a comment is negative, we investigate what has gone on. The team verifies that the comment is valid and accurately portrayed. Our goal is to make online shopping a more positive experience for everyone,” said Szewach.

Will this stop astroturfing?

Astroturfing, as it is known, has long been a staple tactic used by many organisations to kick start conversations, post feedback or provide endorsements.

With the StartHere model, every customer providing feedback has been validated as a genuine online customer of the store.

The company plans to implement a two-way system shortly. This will allow storeowners to respond to the feedback.

“Our intention is to open up the communication between validated customers and storeowners. This gives a storeowner the opportunity to respond to feedback, be it positive or negative. It will also demonstrate to customers that storeowners are engagement and determined to provide good customer service,” explained Szewach.

While it won’t stop astroturfing occurring, this is an interesting development in generating genuine, online word-of-mouth feedback for online Australian stores. And, that is a good thing for every customer.