April 16, 2019

Fake Amazon Reviews Continue: A Closer Look

These headphones had a great rating, but I can't hear anything; the problem with fake Amazon reviews.

Fake Amazon reviews. Just how big a problem are they for Amazon sellers?

Earlier this month we looked at Amazon’s practice of review bundling and how it’s unfortunately allowed low-value products to benefit from reviews of high-quality equivalents. A lot of the information we used came from Which? magazine’s investigation.

Which? has released a new investigation that goes deep into Amazon’s current fake review problem.

The Fake Review Problem by the Numbers

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), a government department tasked with making ‘markets work well for consumers, businesses, and the economy’ estimates that £23 million per year is spent on purchases influenced by online reviews.

So, what happens when the majority of those positive reviews are fake? How many misled sales might be going to your business otherwise?

The answer to that second question depends on your industry. Consumer goods across multiple Amazon categories are affected, but perhaps surprisingly, honest merchants selling headphones have it worst.

Which? identified over 10,000 unverified and suspicious reviews on 24 pairs of headphones alone. One set of headphones had 439 reviews – all made on the same day, all unverified, and all five-star ratings. While none of those facts alone is a red flag, taken together they’re a problem.

  • An unknown brand (which this set is – they’re apparently branded as Celebrat) doesn’t get 439 reviews on the same day honestly. Highly popular brands aren’t likely to get that!
  • If a product gets 400+ legitimate reviews, some percentage of them should be verified (that is, the account placing the review has a recorded purchase of the item on Amazon). If the product can only be found through Amazon, that percentage should be high.
  • However good your product is, once you have reviews in the triple digits, it’s almost certain that a customer will give you a rating below 5.

Many of these reviews didn’t just have identical scores; they also had identical text. “Exceeded expectations and great value” is common, but in some cases you’ll see the same typo made in dozens of reviews – a sure sign of shenanigans.

Expert Opinions: How Fake is Fake?

Which? asked ReviewMeta, the review experts, to assess its findings. ReviewMeta “said it doesn’t often use the word fake but their opinion is that pretty much every five-star unverified review” on the top 10 headphones by average customer review is fake.

Sort headphones, smartwatches, or action cameras by average customer review and brands even tech experts don’t recognise have a complete lockdown on the first page of results. So no Sennheisers, Fitbits, or Go Pros make it onto the front page.

These aren’t industries with cheap but much-maligned market leaders – those brands have a reputation for quality, and in sales terms they dominate their markets. But they can’t make the front page for customer reviews.

It’s clear that some minor brands are making major use of fake reviews. And it’s likely that other minor brands will pay the price with them when review algorithms are changed to prevent this practice.

Now is the time to make sure your product can’t be mistaken for one of these!

Amazon was also asked for comment. Their statement: “Amazon invests significant resources to protect the integrity of reviews in our store because we know customers value the insights and experiences shared by fellow shoppers. Even one inauthentic review is one too many. We have clear participation guidelines for both reviewers and selling partners and we suspend, ban, and take legal action on those who violate our policies.”

What Should Amazon Sellers Do?

Encourage verified reviews. Reach out to your customers and ask for reviews. These will be verified purchases. While there are ways to get fake reviews from verified purchases, verified reviews are still more trustworthy.

Stagger your review requests. We mentioned earlier that popular brands aren’t likely to get hundreds of reviews on the same day, but if they will, it’s because they asked everyone who’s bought their products to review them at the same time. Send out batches at a time to make sure you don’t accidentally create spam.

Make sure the only evidence of your brand isn’t your Amazon Seller account. For many of you, this is already fine.

But if you sell own-brand products and you only sell on Amazon, anyone searching for your brand on Google will only see your Amazon Seller page – which Which? are now pointing out as a potential indicator of a ‘fake review’ brand.

Setting up social media for the brand (and using it at least intermittently) is a good way to make sure something else shows up on search listings reasonably quickly.

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