Cobrapost Exclusive : TATA CLiQ Uses Bogus Reviews to Bolster Online Sales
Exclusive

Cobrapost Exclusive : TATA CLiQ Uses Bogus Reviews to Bolster Online Sales

Utkarsh Phirke |
November 1, 2018

An analysis reveals the Tata group company is using fake reviews to lure gullible customers into buying from its online store


New Delhi (Thursday: November 1, 2018): In a revealing analysis of thousands of reviews posted on the web site of TATA CLiQ, the online store owned and operated by Tata UniStore, Cobrapost has found a large number of them bogus. There is a remarkable spike in reviews just a few days before discount sales, for instance, the recent Diwali sale. Majority of these fake reviews appear to be posted using bots. The analysis also suggests that fake reviews have been written by the employees of the company itself, including some with the senior management team. The analysis begs the question: Is the Tata online store manipulating buyers’ decision making to influence it in its favour?

Launched in 2016, Tata CLiQ sells online apparels and electronics items. In its web site https://www.tatacliq.com/, the company claims “Tata CLiQ offers the convenience of quicker delivery by shipping from store, easy pick-up, exchange and returns, across 1200+ brands and 1,000 stores in 100+ Indian cities and towns.”

Look at this air conditioner on the web site, Voltas 1.5 Ton Inverter 4 Star (BEE Rating 2018) 184V SZS2 Floral Copper Split AC (White). There are 35 reviews published on the product, including an expert review by TATA CLiQ itself. Four more reviews were published on 25 July 2018. The remaining 30 reviews were posted on a single day (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 The similarities in reviews are unmistakable.

The reviews have an average rating of 4.2 and are very appreciative of TATA CLiQ’s service specifically. One could easily believe these reviews, but a careful look at certain phrases and repetitive sentences used by the reviewers to describe the product gives them away as fake. For instance, three of these reviews begin with the sentence, “The product is an absolute winner in style, capacity and working, especially for its price range. & rdquo; Another repetitive sentence used in these glowing reviews is, & ldquo; The cooling technology is brilliant and cools my room quickly.”

This air conditioner is just the tip of the iceberg. There are electronic products across 11 categories with similar reviews.

Cobrapost analyzed 14,632 reviews of 1600 electronic items put on sale across 11categories to see if the reviews were similar (see Table 1).

Table 1 Reviews analyzed across different categories.

We started out by looking at the count of reviews posted each day. There is a huge spike in volume of reviews in October 2018 and a much smaller but significant spike in August 2018 (see the chart in Figure 2). A total of around 12,000 reviews were posted, with 7000 on October 06 and another 5000 on October 09. These reviews account for 83% of all the reviews on 1600 products put on sale.

Figure 2 There is a clear spike in October which is huge.

During these two days alone, on an average, 31 reviews were posted on 379 products. Moreover, approximately 250 products had exactly 30 reviews posted on them. It is unlikely to get such a pattern without the use of bots for posting reviews (see the chart in Figure 3).

Figure 3 Pattern of reviews posted, showing that exactly 30 reviews were posted on around 250 products.

It is interesting to note that 120 users posted close to 100 reviews each. Table 2 shows reviews posted in each category by top users.

Table 2  Category-wise reviews by top users. Would genuine users post these many reviews?

If we look at the distribution of reviews across categories, it is similar for all users, as every user has reviewed 30 laptops and 20 smart phones. This cannot be passed off as a coincidence.

The reviews have been constructed by randomly picking sentences from a predesigned set. For instance, take the review for a laptop that reads. I have seen this laptop on other online shopping destinations but got the best deal at Tata CLiQ. The sonorous sound quality of the laptop is pleasant to my ears. I am happy with my purchase. Smooth delivery. Cheers to Tata CLiQ for making it before time.”

At first glance, the review looks genuine.But other reviews contain similar sentences, leading us to conclude that the reviews are fake (see Table 3).

Table 3 Repetition of sentences gives the reviews away as fake.

A single base sentence is made suitable for use in all product categories by changing the category name (see Table 4).

Table 4 Same sentence is modified and used in all categories, possibly to minimize the number of sentences in the predesigned base set.

But even algorithms and bots make mistakes. In one typical example, a Voltas AC has several reviews referring to it as a washing machine (see Figure 4). Would a real buyer be so absent-minded to praise a product other than what he or she has bought?

Figure 4 Reviewers write about washing machine on an AC product page

There is consistency in spelling mistakes which only bots can provide. There are 144 reviews with sentences where efficient is misspelled as efficent (see Figure 5).

Figure 5 Similar spelling mistakes mark the reviews.

Another fact that emerges from the analysis is that the rush of fake reviews was not limited to the Diwali sale but also occurred during a regular store sale in the past.

The same graph we saw earlier shows a few sharp spikes in August 2018, although the number of reviews is only in the hundreds (Figure 6).

Figure 6 Sharp spikes in reviews are visible in August 2018.

There are plenty of reviews posted between August 08 and 11, and almost no reviews after that. These reviews coincide with TATA CLiQ’ s Cliqtronic sale held from August 9 to14.

Ideally, customers who buy a product during a discount sale would post reviews after they have used the products, probably about a week after the sale when the products reached them. This ideal pattern of spike exists in the 2017 data of the site (Figure 6). It is not surprising that the reviews of August 2018 are also very appreciative of TATACLiQ. But it is surprising that the same user has reviewed multiple TVs, ACs and other electronic products on the same day. A few reviewers had their display name as an email address with the tataunistore.com domain (Figure 7). It is obvious that reviews and ratings are being manipulated by TATA UniStore.

Figure 7 Reviews are posted from tataunistore.com email IDs.

In August, though, there were many reviews with proper names. A search on LinkedIn and Facebook throws up matches for 15 people who happen to work at TATA CLiQ. Most of these users have posted reviews on multiple products of the same category. For example, one Sidharth Srinivasan reviewed two TV sets on a single day, August 9, 2018.

Of 208 reviews posted between August 8 and 11, 148 (71 percent) were written by people with a possible relationship with TATA CLiQ. Six of these twenty reviewers are engaged in marketing jobs (Table 5).

Table 5 Reviewers with possible links with TATA CLiQ.

As already alluded to, two television reviews were written by one SidharthSrinivasan (see Figure 7). Could it be a coincidence that the head of Digital Marketing for TATACLiQ also happens to be one Sidharth Srinivasan?

Figure 7 TATA CLiQ senior officials review their own products.

One Pravin Shivarkar also posted reviews between August 8 and 9. If we believe him, he bought two water purifiers of different brands at the same time. Needless to say he was ecstatic about TATA CLiQ. However, this might not be an ordinary reviewer. Pravin Shivarkaris a Digital Influencer who has over 30,000 followers on Twitter. He was a Senior Manager of Digital Marketing with TATA CLiQ in August 2018 (Figure 8).

Figure 8 TATA CLiQ managers write rave reviews about their own products.

Another reviewer, likely an employee of TATA CLiQ, bought four washing machines and two TV sets (see Figure 9).

 

Figure 9 A single reviewer bought four washing machines and two TV sets.

In this age of e-commerce, where selling and buying online is becoming the trend with burgeoning access to Internet through smart phones, reviews and ratings play an important role in helping online buyers arrive at an informed decision with regard to a particular product. It is estimated that more than 90 percent buyers use reviews and ratings while making their decisions. Even offline buyers often research, compare and read reviews online before buying a product. The way TATA CLiQ is manipulating the decision of its buyers by getting bogus reviewers to write favourable reviews for its products is breach of the trust the buyers put on Brand TATA.

Note:

Before breaking the story, we mailed the company a set of questions with regard to the unfair practice. We are reproducing the response we have received from CEO Vikas Purohit:

Dear Team Cobrapost

Many thanks for sharing this information with us. 

As a company, we remain committed to provide only authentic merchandise, from authentic  sources to the customers. 

The philosophy extends to any other customer trust touchpoint including reviews. We remain committed to provide genuine reviews to customers as a consideration in their purchase journey. 

Our team will investigate the above mentioned reviews. If any seller, agency or employee is found complicit in breaking customer trust, necessary actions will be taken against the same.

We will also review our processes and ensure that they are further strengthened so that only authentic customer reviews are posted on the site. 

Warm regards

Vikas Purohit 

CEO - Tata Unistore Ltd


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