When it comes to shopping online, people always want to know what they’re getting into before purchasing. Product reviews are the best way to get information from other people like themselves. Instead of relying solely on the polished company description, consumers look for others to discern whether or not the product works as it’s supposed to. According to PowerReview, 97% of consumers check reviews before making a decision on whether to purchase, and 85% look for negative ones first. The numbers don’t lie. More people trust a positive rating of 4.0 or higher than they do 2 and lower. The higher the rating and positive reviews the better it is for products and businesses. However, in recent years, there has been a growing trend of fake reviews. These Amazon reviews inflate product ratings and give the consumer false information.
Consumers rely heavily on reviews and star ratings, something sellers on Amazon know too well. A five star rating means higher visibility and more purchases. To combat the saturated marketplace, sellers turned to paid reviews. Amazon has always been against these, but initially allowed an incentive for reviews. Merchants could give free or discounted products so long as the consumer offered their honest opinion. However, findings suggested that customers were more likely to leave a positive review than a negative one when offered discounts or free items. Many came out of “review clubs” which would remove users that gave less than five star reviews. This, of course, meant that the reviews could no longer be considered authentic due to bias. Amazon retaliated by banning any kind of incentive for review, unless the merchant was part of its Vine program. Unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped the influx.
According to findings by the Washington Post, Amazon’s ban has only caused an increase in paid reviewers and pushed communities into hiding. They have found ways around the band, such as offering free products and telling consumers it’s not necessary to leave feedback. This has only made it more difficult to track fraudulent reviews as people are not responsible to say that they were compensated in their comment. Amazon states that the majority of their reviews are authentic, however that’s not the case when it comes to recent feedback.
Authentic vs. Questionable
There are two websites which collect public data and parse it through an algorithm to find out which reviews are suspect and which are not. Fakespot and ReviewMeta allow consumers to paste an Amazon URL to be analyzed. Both sites review the data and tell whether or not the star rating and reviews can be trusted. They then adjust the star rating to reflect the findings to give a more accurate assessment. According to Ming Ooi (co-owner of Fakespot) and Tommy Noonan (founder of ReviewMeta), one of the most highly suspect categories is electronics, where the competition is fierce. Other categories include diet pills and supplements, according to the Washington Post, as well as footwear.
There are other ways to try and spot fake reviews. Generally, positive five star reviews are posted within a few days of each other. They tend to be made for new product manufacturers trying to get more exposure. Reviews have similar or strange wording, and user photos are staged. In many cases, compensated reviews tend to be longer and read more like a brochure than a review. They might even be accompanied by video. Verified purchases are also no longer a good way of knowing whether or not feedback is legitimate.
After Amazon banned incentivized reviews, scammers went underground to find ways around the new regulations. There are plenty of Facebook groups offering discounted or free products in return for five star reviews. These merchants usually pay through PayPal within minutes of the completed task. Some of these Facebook groups have over 5,000 members. According to the Washington Post, Facebook has deleted more than a dozen of these groups in the past month.
Fake reviews are making it difficult for merchants to compete legitimately. With merchants using new and different tactics to compete, consumers are being scammed. Merchants using these tactics are hoping to fool shoppers looking for quick, one-click purchases. The kind of people who won’t check product reviews long enough to know that they aren’t genuine. This creates an environment where the consumer must be wary, and loses trust in online shopping. Legitimate and trustworthy merchants are losing consumers due to fake reviews that inflate other, less reputable products. It’s all due to the massive Amazon marketplace. Despite Amazon stating it is doing everything it can to remove these reviews from its system, it’s not nearly doing enough. Reviews are Amazon’s life blood after all, and if it were to lose the majority of product feedback shoppers would also lose information. But what good is fake information anyway?