On Amazon, customer comments can help a product surge in popularity. The online retail giant says that more than 99 percent of its reviews are legitimate because they are written by real shoppers who aren’t paid for them.
But a Washington Post examination found that for some popular product categories, such as Bluetooth headphones and speakers, the vast majority of reviews appear to violate Amazon’s prohibition on paid reviews. Such reviews have certain characteristics, such as repetitive wording that people probably cut and paste in.
Many of these fraudulent reviews originate on Facebook, where sellers seek shoppers on dozens of networks, including Amazon Review Club and Amazon Reviewers Group, to give glowing feedback in exchange for money or other compensation. The practice artificially inflates the ranking of thousands of products, experts say, misleading consumers.
Amazon.com banned paying for reviews a year and a half ago because of research it conducted showing that consumers distrust paid reviews. Every once in a while, including this month, Amazon purges shoppers from its site whom it accuses of breaking its policies.
But the ban, sellers and experts say, merely pushed an activity that used to take place openly into dispersed and harder-to-track online communities.
It’s tough, with some items, to separate out the fake reviews from the real ones. Amazon does indicate which reviews are for purchases – you can post reviews even if you haven’t purchased an item from Amazon, at least for some product categories – but the way the review-for-sale system works is the sellers “sell” the item for free, or for a nominal fee (such as 1 cent).
I know about this, because I have long posted reviews on Amazon, and am a Vine Voice on Amazon.com, and a top-1000 reviewer on Amazon UK. For a while, I would allow companies to contact me to request reviews, and I did review a handful of products like this, but I stopped, because most of them were crap. I reviewed some electronic product once and gave it one star, and the vendor got really angry at me because they had sent me the item, and expected a five-star review.
I no longer accept unsolicited items, but still write review of things I buy; mostly books, music, and DVDs, but also some other items, if I have an urge to write something when Amazon emails me.
As the article points out, there are certain product categories where this is more of a problem. No-name Bluetooth headphones, diet supplements, even Apple Watch bands; these are the areas where cheap Chinese brands try to game the system. For more expensive products, you can generally trust reviewers, at least if the product is a verified purchase. I look at reviews for audio equipment, camera accessories, and even books, and find them to be, for the most part, honest.
But the system is flawed. You can generally trust those well-rated reviewers, but a former number one reviewer on Amazon.com, who reviewed thousands of books, turned out to have been a fraud, so you never know.