On 12 February, it was announced that The Body Shop UK was entering administration. With 199 shops across the country, if this leads to the collapse of the business, some 2000 jobs will be lost. The business has been struggling since 2020 and poor sales this last Christmas led the new owners, the pan-European alternative investment firm, Aurelius, to appoint administrators.
This could potentially begin an insolvency process that could result in the closure of some or all of the shops. This would spell the end of an iconic brand that, since its founding in 1976, has been associated with natural, ethically sourced and environmentally friendly products. Aurelius has already sold The Body Shop business in most of mainland Europe and in parts of Asia to an unnamed buyer. It is unclear what will happen to the approximately 2800 stores and 8000 employees in 70 countries outside the UK.
Origins of The Body Shop1
The Body Shop was founded in 1976 and shot to fame in the 1980s. It stood for environmental awareness and an ethical approach to business. But its success had as much to do with what it sold as what it stood for. It sold natural cosmetics – Raspberry Ripple Bathing Bubbles and Camomile Shampoo – products that proved immensely popular with consumers.
Its profits increased from a little over £1m in 1985 (€1.7m) to approximately £65m (€77.5m) in 2012. Although profits then slipped, falling to €65.3m in 2014 and €54.8m in 2015, its profit growth in new markets over that same period was 12.4%.
Sales revenue, meanwhile, grew even more dramatically, from £4.9m in 1985 to approximately €967.2m in 2015. By 2015, Body Shop International had over 3100 stores, operating in 61 countries.
What made this success so remarkable is that The Body Shop did virtually no advertising. Its promotion stemmed largely from the activities and environmental campaigning of its founder, Anita Roddick, and the company’s uncompromising claim that it sold only ‘green’ products and conducted its business operations with high ethical standards. It actively supported green causes such as saving whales and protecting rainforests, and it refused to allow its products to be tested on animals. Perhaps most surprising in the world of big business at the time was its high-profile initiative ‘trade not aid’, whereby it claimed to pay ‘fair’ prices for its ingredients, especially those supplied by people in developing countries who were open to exploitation by large companies.
The growth strategy of The Body Shop focused upon developing a distinctive and highly innovative product range, and at the same time identifying these products with major social issues of the day, such as the environment and animal rights.
Its initial expansion was based on a process of franchising, where individuals opened Body Shops which were then supplied by the company with its range of just 19 products. Then, in 1984 the company went public. Following its flotation, the share price rose from just 5p to a high of 370p in 1992.
In the 1990s, however, sales growth was less rapid. By 1998, earnings had collapsed by 90% and the share price fell to 117p. Shareholders forced Anita Roddick to step down as Chief Executive, but for a while she and her husband remained as co-chairs. In 2002, they stepped down as co-chairs, by which time profits had fallen to £20.4m. In 2003 she was awarded in knighthood and became Dame Anita Roddick. Sales then grew rapidly from 2004 to 2006 from €553m to €709m.
Acquisition of The Body Shop by L’Oréal
A dramatic event, however, occurred in 2006 when The Body Shop was sold to the French cosmetics giant, L’Oréal, which was 26% owned by Nestlé, The event resulted in the magazine Ethical Consumer downgrading The Body Shop’s ethical rating from 11 out of 20 to a mere 2.5 and calling for a boycott of the company. Three weeks after the sale, the daily BrandIndex recorded an 11 point drop in The Body Shop’s consumer satisfaction rating from 25 to 14.
There were several reasons for this. L’Oréal’s animal-testing policies conflicted with those of The Body Shop and L’Oréal was accused of being involved in price-fixing with other French perfume houses. L’Oréal’s part-owner, Nestlé, was also subject to various criticisms for ethical misconduct, including promoting formula milk rather than breast milk to mothers with babies in developing countries and using slave labour in cocoa farms in West Africa.
Anita Roddick, however, believed that, by taking over The Body Shop, L’Oréal would develop a more ethical approach to business. Indeed, it did publicly recognise that it needed to develop its ethical and environmental policies.
L’Oréal adopted a new Code of Business Ethics in 2007 and gained some external accreditation for its approach to sustainability and ethics. It was ranked as one of the world’s 100 most ethical companies by Ethisphere in 2007 and, in 2016, it was again part of this list for the seventh time.
L’Oréal set itself three targets as part of its environmental strategy (2005–15), including a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and waste per finished product unit. It made a donation of $1.2m to the US Environment Protection Agency to help bring an end to animal testing and, in March 2013, it announced a ‘total ban on the sale in Europe of any cosmetic product that was tested on animals or containing an ingredient that was tested on animals after this date.’ It also promised that ‘By 2020, we will innovate so that 100% of products have an environmental or social benefit.’
Sadly, Anita Roddick died in 2007 and so was not able to witness these changes.
L’Oréal also looked to inject greater finance into the company aimed at improving the marketing of products. In autumn 2006 a transactional website was launched and there have been larger press marketing campaigns. Profits continued to rise in 2006 and 2007, but fell back quite dramatically from €64m in 2007 to €36m in 2008 as recession hit the high streets. They fell by a further 8% in 2009, but significant growth was seen in the following three years: 2010, up 20.3% to €65.3m; 2011, up 4.3% to €68.1m; 2012, up 13.8% to €77.5m.
From L’Oréal to Natura to Aurelius to ?
From 2013, the financial performance of The Body Shop deteriorated. Profits fell by 38% in 2016 to just €34m, with sales falling by 5%. In June 2017, L’Oréal announced that it had agreed to sell The Body Shop for €1bn (£877m) to Natura Cosmeticos, the largest Brazilian cosmetics business. Natura was awarded ‘B Corp’ status in 2014 as it met certain standards for environmental performance, accountability and transparency. In 2019, The Body Shop was separately certified as a B Corp.
Initial indications for The Body Shop under its new owners seemed good, with net revenue rising by 36% in 2018 and 6.3% in 2019. 2020 saw strong growth in sales, with a rise in online sales more than offsetting the effect of store closures during the pandemic. Its market share peaked in 2020 at 1.4%. However, with the cost-of-living crisis following the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many consumers switched to cheaper brands and cheaper outlets, such as Boots and Superdrug, sacrificing environmental and ethical concerns in favour of value for money. As a result, The Body Shop’s market share fell, dropping to 0.8% in 2022 and not picking up in 2023.
This prompted Natura to sell the business to Aurelius. Aurelius hoped to revitalise The Body Shop by promoting its core values and through partnerships or concessions with major retailers, such as John Lewis or Next. However, as we saw above, after a poor Christmas and a weaker capital base and higher cost commitments than initially thought by Aurelius, the new owner filed to put The Body Shop into administration.
What will come of the administration process remains to be seen. Perhaps some of the more profitable stores will be saved; perhaps there will be an expansion of the online business; perhaps partnerships will be sought with major retailers. We shall see.
1 Some of this section is based on Case Study 9.3 from Economics (11th edition).
- Aurelius Acquires Iconic Global Beauty Brand and Retailer, The Body Shop
Aurelius news (14/11/23)
- Back to the future? What’s next for the Body Shop brand
Marketing Week, Niamh Carroll (14/11/23)
- The Body Shop appoints administrators for UK business
Financial Times, Laura Onita and Will Louch (13/2/24)
- The Body Shop set to appoint administrators for UK arm
Financial Times, Laura Onita (10/2/24)
- The Body Shop collapses into administration in UK
The Guardian, Sarah Butler and Rob Davies (13/2/24)
- The Body Shop UK in administration – what went wrong?
Sky News, James Sillars (13/2/24)
- Body Shop UK jobs and stores at risk in race to save firm
BBC News (13/2/24)
- From cult status to closure fears — what happened to The Body Shop?
CBC News, Natalie Stechyson (12/2/24)
- Headed for administration, why did The Body Shop fail?
Startups, Richard Parris (12/2/24)
- Comment: The Body Shop’s woes hit just as it should be at its most relevant
TheIndustry.beauty, Lauretta Roberts (13/2/24)
- The collapse of The Body Shop shows that ‘ethical’ branding is not a free pass to commercial success
The Conversation, Kokho Jason Sit (15/2/24)
- What assumptions did The Body Shop made about the ‘rational consumer’?
- How would you describe the aims of The Body Shop (a) in the early days under Anita Roddick; (b) under L’Oréal; (c) under Aurelius?
- How has The Body Shop’s economic performance been affected by its attitudes towards ethical issues?
- What has Lush done right that The Body Shop has not?
- What will the administrators seek to do?
- Find out what has happened to The Body Shop outlets in mainland Europe?
Have you ever wondered how your job affects your happiness? We all know that not all jobs are created equal. Some are awesome, while others … not so much. Well, it turns out that employment status and the type of work you do can have a big impact on how you feel – especially in developing countries where labour markets are usually tighter and switching between jobs can be more difficult.
A recent study by Carmichael, Darko and Vasilakos (2021) uses survey data from Ethiopia, Peru, India and Vietnam to answer this very question. The study found that the quality of work is a big deal when it comes to how young people feel. Not all jobs are ‘good jobs’ that automatically make you feel great. Although your wellbeing is likely to be higher when you’re in employment than when you’re not, there are certain job attributes that can push that ‘employment premium’ up or down. This is especially important to understand in countries like many in sub-Saharan Africa, where there aren’t many formal jobs, and people often end up overqualified for what they do.
What job attributes lead to higher wellbeing?
What then are the job attributes that are correlated with higher levels of wellbeing? The first is money: Okay, we know money can’t buy happiness, but it can certainly make life easier. We were therefore hardly surprised to find a positive and statistically significant association between hourly earnings and wellbeing.
We were also not surprised to find that a ‘poor working environment’ has a strong and highly significant negative effect on wellbeing.
Finally, feeling proud of your work is also found to be a strongly significant determinant of your wellbeing. After all, people tend to excel in things they like doing, which is probably part of the ‘transmission mechanism’ between ‘work pride’ and ‘subjective wellbeing’.
Which one of these attributes did you think had the greatest effect on wellbeing? Let me guess, many of you will say ‘earnings’. But then you would be wrong. Earnings were indeed positively associated with wellbeing and statistically significant at just about the 10% level, whereas work pride was very strongly statistically significant at the 1% level and had an effect on wellbeing that was four times greater than hourly earnings.
Putting yourself in a poor working environment on the other hand would reduce your wellbeing by almost twice as much as the earnings coefficient.
What does all this mean for policy-makers? If we want to make life better for young people in low-income countries, we need to tackle the problems from multiple angles.
First, young people need to be helped to get the skills they need for the job market. This can be done through things like training programmes and apprenticeships. However, not all of these programmes are created equal. Some have great results, and others not so much.
But that’s not the whole story. In many countries, there’s a massive informal job market. It’s a place where people work but often don’t have the rights or protections that formal employees do. So, even if young people get trained, they might not find the ‘good’ jobs they’re hoping for.
Changes also need to be made on a much bigger scale. This often includes decentralising public investment to include rural areas, improving infrastructure, and encouraging private investment. Strengthening labour market rules and social protection can help too, by making sure that work is safe and fair.
In a nutshell, where you work and what kind of work you do can make a big difference to how you feel.
If policy-makers want to help young people in low-income countries, they need both to give them the skills they require and to create better job opportunities. But policy-makers also need to make bigger changes to the way things work, like boosting production and making sure jobs are safe and fair.
In the end, it’s about making life better for young people around the world. Let’s keep working on it!
- Well-being and employment of young people in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam: Is work enough?
Development Policy Review, Fiona Carmichael, Christian K. Darko and Nicholas Vasilakos (18/5/21)
- The search for ‘meaning’ at work
BBC Worklife, Kate Morgan (7/9/22)
- Job Satisfaction Is Rising: What’s Behind The Surprising Tend
Forbes, Tracy Brower (4/6/23)
- Young workers are embracing AI, job satisfaction rising: 2023 Young Generation in Tech report
Silicon Canals (4/10/23)
- ‘These jobs can be respectable too’: Why youths in China are abandoning white-collar jobs for ‘light labor’
CNBC, Goh Chiew Tong (6/6/23)
- Does Work Make You Happy? Evidence from the World Happiness Report
Harvard Business Review, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve and George Ward (20/3/17)
- Worker well-being is in demand as organizational culture shifts
American Psychological Association, Monitor on Psychology, Heather Stringer (1/1/23)
- Understanding children’s work and youth employment outcomes in Indonesia
Understanding Children’s Work (UCW) Programme, Villa Aldobrandini and V. Panisperna (June 2012)
- Where are We with Young People’s Wellbeing? Evidence from Nigerian Demographic and Health Surveys 2003–2013
Social Indicators Research, pp.803–33, Boniface Ayanbekongshie Ushie and Ekerette Emmanuel Udoh (November 2016)
- Employment Status and Well-Being Among Young Individuals. Why Do We Observe Cross-Country Differences?
Social Indicators Research, Dominik Buttler (29/6/22)
- Employment Mismatches Drive Expectational Earnings Errors among Mozambican Graduates
The World Bank Economic Review, Sam Jones, Ricardo Santos and Gimelgo Xirinda (27/7/23)
- Youth Employment and Skills Development in The Gambia
World Bank Working Paper 217, Nathalie Lahire, Richard Johanson and Ryoko Tomita Wilcox (2011)
- How does the quality of work impact the happiness and wellbeing of young people in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), and why is this significant in the context of job opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa?
- What are some potential solutions and strategies discussed in the article for improving the wellbeing of young people in LMICs, particularly in the context of employment and job opportunities?
- Have you ever experienced a job that significantly (positively or negatively) impacted your wellbeing or happiness? Reflect on your experience and how it influenced your overall life satisfaction?
- How is AI likely to affect the wellbeing of young professional workers?
- How is the pandemic likely to have affected job satisfaction?
UK house prices have been falling in recent months. According to the Nationwide Building Society, average UK house prices in September 2023 were 5.3% lower than in September 2022. This fall reflects the increasing cost of owning a home as mortgage rates have risen. The average standard variable rate mortgage was 3.61% in August 2021, 4.88% in August 2022 and 7.85% in August 2023. A two-year fixed rate mortgage with a 10% deposit had an interest rate of 2.48% in August 2021, 3.93% in August 2022 and 6.59% in August 2023. Thus over two years, mortgage rates have more than doubled. This has made house purchase less affordable and has dampened demand.
But do house prices simply reflect current affordability? Given the large increase in mortgage costs and the cost-of-living crisis, it might seem surprising that house prices have fallen so little. After all, from September 2019 to August 2023, the average UK house price rose by 27.1% (from £215 352 to £273 751). Since then it has fallen by only 5.8% (to £257 808 in September 2023). However, there are various factors that help to explain why house prices have not fallen considerably more.
The first is that 74% of borrowers are on fixed-rate mortgages and 96% of new mortgages since 2019 have been at fixed rates. More than half of people with fixed rates have not yet had to renew their mortgage since interest rates began rising in December 2021. These people, therefore, have not yet been affected by the rise in mortgage interest rates.
The second is that interest rates are expected to peak and then fall. Even though by December 2024 another 2 million households will have had to renew their mortgage, those taking out new longer-term fixed rates may find that rates are lower than those on offer today. This could help to reduce the downward effect on house prices.
The third is that rents continue to rise, partly in response to the higher mortgage rates paid by landlords. With the price of this substitute product rising, this acts as an incentive for existing homeowners not to sell and existing renters to buy, even though they are facing higher mortgage payments.
The fourth is that house prices do not necessarily reflect the overall market equilibrium. People selling may hold out for a better price, hoping that they will eventually attract a buyer. Houses thus are taking longer to sell. This creates a glut of houses at above-equilibrium prices, with fewer sales taking place. At the same time, these higher prices depress demand. People would rather wait for a fall in house prices than pay the current asking price. This creates more of a ‘buyers’ market’, with some sellers being forced to sell well below the asking price. According to Zoopla (see linked article below), the average selling price is 4.2% below the asking price – the highest since 2019. Nevertheless, with sellers holding out and with reduced sales, actual sale prices have fallen less than if markets cleared.
So will house prices continue to fall and will the rate of decline accelerate? This depends on confidence and affordability. With interest rates falling, confidence and affordability are likely to rise. This will help to arrest further price falls.
However, with large numbers of people still on low fixed rates but with these fixed terms ending over the coming months, for them interest rates will be higher and this could continue to have a dampening effect on demand. What is more, affordability is likely to rise only slowly and in the short term could fall further. Petrol and diesel prices remain high and home energy costs and food prices are still well above the levels of two years ago. Inflation generally is coming down only slowly. The higher prices plus a rising tax burden from fiscal drag1 will continue to squeeze household budgets. This will reduce the size of deposits and the monthly payments that house purchasers can afford.
Over the longer term, house prices are set to rise again. Lower interest rates, rising real incomes again and a failure of house building to keep up with the growth in the number of people seeking to buy houses will all contribute to this. However, over the next few months, house prices are likely to continue falling. But just how much is difficult to predict. A lot will depend on expectations about house prices and incomes, how quickly inflation falls and how quickly the Bank of England reduces interest rates.
1 With tax thresholds frozen, as people’s wages rise, so a higher proportion of their income is taxed and, for higher earners, a higher proportion is taxed at a higher rate. This automatically increases income tax as a proportion of income.
- House Price Index – September 2023
Zoopla, Richard Donnell (28/9/23)
- UK home sellers increase discounts to secure deals, Zoopla data shows
Financial Times, Joshua Oliver (28/9/23)
- Buyer’s market! House hunters bag £12k off average asking price, says Zoopla
This is Money, Jane Denton (28/9/23)
- House price growth remained weak in September
Nationwide HPI Reports (2/10/23)
- UK mortgage approvals hit six-month low as interest rates cool market
The Guardian, Phillip Inman (29/9/23)
- UK house prices are plummeting at the most rapid pace in over a decade
Euronews, Daniel Harper (2/10/23)
- House prices fall across all UK regions for first time since 2009
Financial Times, Valentina Romei (2/10/23)
- Will house prices fall in 2023?
The Times, Hannah Smith and Georgie Frost (4/10/23)
- First-time buyers in UK drop by a fifth as higher mortgage costs bite
The Guardian, Julia Kollewe (27/9/23)
- England worst place in developed world to find housing, says report
The Guardian, Robert Booth (5/10/23)
- UK homeowners face huge rise in payments when fixed-rate mortgages expire
The Guardian, Richard Partington (17/6/23)
- UK house prices: Where the cheapest areas to buy are, and how far prices could fall
i News, Zesha Saleem (29/9/23)
- Why are house prices falling?
Independent, Vicky Shaw (7/9/23)
- Use a supply and demand diagram to illustrate the situation where house prices are above the equilibrium.
- Why does house price inflation/deflation differ (a) from one type of house (or flat) to another; (b) from one region of the economy/locality to another?
- Find out why house prices rose so much (a) in the early 2000s; (b) from 2020 to 2022.
- Find out why house prices fell so much from 2008 to 2010. Why was this fall so much greater than in recent months?
- Find out what is happening to house prices in two other developed countries of your choice. How does the current housing market in these countries differ from that in the UK?
- Paint possible scenarios (a) where UK house prices continue to fall by several percentage points; (b) begin to rise again very soon.
China has been an economic powerhouse in recent decades – a powerhouse that has helped to drive the world economy through trade and both inward and outward investment. At the same time, its low-priced exports have helped to dampen world inflation. But is all this changing? Is China, to use President Biden’s words, a ‘ticking time bomb’?
China’s economic growth rate is slowing, with the quarterly growth in GDP falling from 2.2% in Q1 this year to 0.8% in Q2. Even though public-sector investment rose by 8.1% in the first six months of this year, private-sector investment fell by 0.2%, reflecting waning business confidence. And manufacturing output declined in August. But, despite slowing growth, the Chinese government is unlikely to use expansionary fiscal policy because of worries about growing public-sector debt.
The property market
One of the biggest worries for the Chinese economy is the property market. The annual rate of property investment fell by 20.6% in June this year and new home prices fell by 0.2% in July (compared with June). The annual rate of price increase for new homes was negative throughout 2022, being as low as minus 1.6% in November 2022; it was minus 0.1% in the year to July 2023, putting new-home prices at 2.4% below their August 2021 level. However, these are official statistics. According to the Japan Times article linked below, which reports Bloomberg evidence, property agents and private data providers report much bigger falls, with existing home prices falling by at least 15% in many cities.
Falling home prices have made home-owners poorer and this wealth effect acts as a brake on spending. The result is that, unlike in many Western countries, there has been no post-pandemic bounce back in spending. There has also been a dampening effect on local authority spending. During the property boom they financed a proportion of their spending by selling land to property developers. That source of revenue has now largely dried up. And as public-sector revenues have been constrained, so this has constrained infrastructure spending – a major source of growth in China.
The government, however, has been unwilling to compensate for this by encouraging private investment and has tightened regulation of the financial sector. The result has been a decline in new jobs and a rise in unemployment, especially among graduates, where new white collar jobs in urban areas are declining. According to the BBC News article linked below, “In July, figures showed a record 21.3% of jobseekers between the ages of 16 and 25 were out of work”.
The fall in demand has caused consumer prices to fall. In the year to July 2023, they fell by 0.3%. Even though core inflation is still positive (0.8%), the likelihood of price reductions in the near future discourages spending as people hold back, waiting for prices to fall further. This further dampens the economy. This is a problem that was experienced in Japan over many years.
Despite slowing economic growth, Chinese annual growth in GDP for 2023 is still expected to be around 4.5% – much lower than the average rate for 9.5% from 1991 to 2019, but considerably higher than the average of 1.1% forecast for 2023 for the G7 countries. Nevertheless, China’s exports fell by 14.5% in the year to July 2023 and imports fell by 12.5%. The fall in imports represents a fall in exports to China from the rest of the world and hence a fall in injections to the rest-of-the-world economy. Currently China’s role as a powerhouse of the world has gone into reverse.
- Using PowerPoint or Excel, plot the growth rate of Chinese real GDP, real exports and real imports from 1990 to 2024 (using forecasts for 2023 and 2024). Use data from the IMF’s World Economic Outlook database. Comment on the figures.
- Explain the wealth effect from falling home prices.
- Why may official figures understate the magnitude of home price deflation?
- Explain the foreign trade multiplier and its relevance to other countries when the volume of Chinese imports changes. What determines the size of this multiplier for a specific country?
- How does the nature of the political system in China affect the likely policy response to the problems identified in this blog?
- Is there any good news for the rest of the world from the slowdown in the Chinese economy?
Imagine a situation where you are thinking of buying a good and so you go to an e-commerce marketplace such as Amazon, eBay, Etsy or Onbuy. How confident are you about the quality of the different brands/makes that are listed for sale on these digital platforms? How do you choose which product to buy? Is the decision strongly influenced by customer reviews and rating?
When a customer is choosing what to buy it raises an interesting question: to what extent can the true quality of the different goods/services be observed at the time of purchase? Although perfect observability is highly unlikely, the level of consumer information about a product’s true quality will vary between different types of transaction.
For example, when consumers can physically inspect and test/try a product in a shop, it can help them to make more accurate judgements about its quality and condition. This poses a problem for online sellers of high-quality versions of a good. Without the ability to inspect the item physically, consumers may be unsure about its characteristics. They may worry that the online description provided by the seller deliberately misrepresents the true quality of the item.
Consumers may have other concerns about the general reliability of online sellers. For example, in comparison to buying the product from a physical store, consumers may worry that:
- They will have to wait longer to receive the good. In many cases, when consumers purchase a product from a high-street store, they can walk away with the item and start using it straight away. When purchasing on line, they may end up waiting weeks or even longer before the product is finally delivered.
- It will be more difficult to return the product and get a refund.
- They are more likely to come across fraudulent sellers who have set-up a fake website.
This greater level of uncertainty about the true characteristics of the product and the general reliability of the seller will have a negative impact on consumers’ willingness to pay for all goods. This impact is likely to be particularly strong for high-quality versions of a product. If consumers’ willingness to pay falls below the reservation price of many sellers of high-quality goods, then the market could suffer from adverse selection and market failure.
Are there any within-market arrangements that could help deal with this issue? One possibility is for sellers to signal the quality of their products by posting consumer ratings and reviews. If consumers see that a product has many positive ratings, then this will increase their confidence in the quality of the product and so increase their willingness to pay. This could then reduce both levels of asymmetric information and the chances of adverse selection occurring in the market,
There is survey evidence that many people do read consumer reviews when choosing products on line and are heavily influenced by the ratings.
The problem of fake reviews
However, when consumers look at these reviews can they be sure that they reflect consumers’ honest opinions and/or actual experience of using the good or service? Firms may have an incentive to manipulate and post fake reviews. For example, they could:
- Deliberately fail to display negative reviews on their website while claiming that all reviews are published.
- Use internet bots to post thousands of automated reviews.
- Take positive reviews from competitors’ websites and post them on their own website.
- Pay some customers and/or employees to write and post 5-star reviews on their own website.
- Pay some customers and/or employees to write and post 1-star reviews on their competitors’ websites.
- Set up a website that they claim is independent and use it to provide positive endorsements of their own products.
If the benefits of this type of behaviour outweigh the costs, then we would expect to see fake reviews posted on websites. If their use becomes widespread, then the value of posting genuine reviews will fall. The market may then settle into what economists call a ‘pooling equilibrium’.
What evidence do we have on the posting of fake reviews? Given their nature, it is difficult to collect reliable data and there are large variations in the reported figures. One recent study found evidence of fake reviews being purchased and posted for approximately 1500 products on Amazon.
Can consumers screen reviews and identify those that are more likely to be fake? The following are some tell-tale signs.
- Products that receive a large number of very positive reviews over a short period (i.e. a few days). There are then long periods before the product receives another large number of positive reviews.
- A high percentage of 5-star reviews. Two, three and four start reviews are more likely to be genuine.
- Reviews that specifically mention a rival firm’s products.
- Reviewers who have given very high ratings to large number of different products over a short period of time.
- Reviews that include photos/videos.
Competition authorities around the world have been investigating the issue and the Competition and Markets Authority has announced plans to introduce new laws that make the purchasing and posting of fake reviews illegal.
- Outline different types of asymmetric information and explain the difference between adverse selection and moral hazard.
- Using a diagram, explain the impact of uncertainty over the quality of a good on consumers’ willingness to pay.
- Will consumers always face greater uncertainty over quality when purchasing goods on line rather than visiting the high street? Discuss your answer making reference to some specific examples.
- Using diagrams, explain how a market for high-quality versions of a good might collapse if there is asymmetric information. Using price elasticity of supply, explain the circumstances when the market is more likely to collapse.
- Discuss some of the benefits and costs for a firm of purchasing and posting fake reviews.