Amazon is widely regarded as the top online retailer in the world, with customers buying 178 billion dollars worth of merchandise from the site in 2017 alone.
However, while Amazon’s Prime shipping might be reliable, how reliable are the reviews and product descriptions of some listings on the site? It seems that more and more customers are encountering products that simply do not work but still have dozens of five-star reviews.
Here are some ways sellers on Amazon are inflating their ratings with fake reviews and how to avoid falling for them.
Reviews sell products. If a customer sees a deal that seems like it’s too good to be true or comes from a brand they’ve never heard of, they can be hesitant to make the purchase. However, if the said product has 70 five star reviews from other customers, then they’re more likely to take the chance.
Sellers know this, and in the early days of Amazon, they would readily exchange free products for positive reviews.
Naturally, Amazon does not want its customers to be duped.
Worthless products are destined to get returned, or in the very least lead to more work for the customer support team. As a solution Amazon launched its verified purchase system that gives flare next to reviews that come from a customer who has purchased the product on Amazon, thus allowing users to know when a seller may have exchanged his products for reviews.
At least, that’s how Amazon planned for the system to work. In reality, this has just pressured peddlers of fake products to evolve. Now, sellers have created strategies to work the system, such as having a reviewer buy the product through Amazon with money the seller has sent through Paypal.
In fact, this system has just created a shadow marketplace where reviewers have gotten far more sophisticated and convincing since they can now be paid for a good review in addition to getting the free product.
Read Reviews Carefully
Say Sam has posted a 1,000-word tome about how much he loved his MP3 player by a brand with an unpronounceable name that you’ve never heard of. This review is so helpful, it even includes troubleshooting advice and instructions on how to get the device working.
Yet hidden in its many paragraphs lies a tell-tale statement, “I felt so lucky to receive this product at a discount in exchange for my honest feedback”. That should be a red flag. According to Amazon’s Terms of Service, reviewers who receive products for free (or at a steep discount) are obligated to mention it in the review.
Though they are not obligated to do so in an obvious way, such as with a disclaimer at the start of the review. It can be hidden in the middle, or even at the end, beyond the “continue reading” hyperlink.
Buy One Get One Free (For a Review)
Another common tactic to rack up positive reviews is for companies to offer a free product or gift in exchange for a five-star rating on a product the customer has already bought. You see this frequently with consumables such as vitamins or supplements.
Customers are less likely to mention the free gift or coupon in their reviews, and thus the feedback may seem more genuine.
So how do you avoid getting tricked by fake reviews?
The easiest way to avoid getting tricked is to use a site like Fakespot or ReviewMeta, which uses an algorithm to determine if the reviews are genuine or fake. Fakespot scores the product’s reviews’ reliability by giving a grade A through F, with F being a complete fake and A being almost certainly real.
ReviewMeta provides a bit more data by actually calculating an adjusted rating by removing all of the fake reviews.
Either way, these sites are instant ways to determine if the seller may be using tactics to inflate their scores.
Don’t like technology, or maybe you’re questioning the algorithm’s judgment? You can always judge the reviews for yourself. Fake reviewers tend to have few reviews. Their profiles will either have all positive reviews for a single seller or manufacturer or be accompanied by clusters of negative reviews for the products of competitors.
Be wary if a reviewer has reviewed an unnatural amount of products in a short amount of time, as it hints they are getting some additional compensation for it. For example, professional book reviewers may review a book or two a day, which is far beyond what a normal consumer will read.
In the end, it’s best to use critical thinking and common sense to determine if a product is worth buying. If something seems too good to be true, then it probably is, and don’t let yourself get seduced by a price tag.
There is no way a 30 dollar camera is going to function better than a 300 dollar go pro if it functions at all. Always remember; you’re not saving money if you buy something that does not work.