“The quality is nice! It is such a steal for $100! You should buy yours!”

One of the most horrible things that can happen to you is buying a very expensive item online and ending up being scammed, all because you believed the reviews you read online. 

Reviews are one of the most effective ways to sell a product online. All online retailers like Amazon rely on reviews in order to determine the authenticity and quality of the products they are selling. As you scroll and search through these online selling platforms, you will realize that there are thousands of reviews. But here’s the truth: not all reviews are to be trusted. That includes reviews on Amazon because a handful of them are fake. 

What are fake reviews? 

Fake reviews or review fraud is the act of vendors, publishers, writers, or any third-party monitoring online reviews and posting non authentic or fake online reviews as real customers in order to significantly increase product sales. By this definition, fake reviews are primarily done by online merchants, such as vendors, publishers, and retailers for profit maximization. 

By essence, fake reviews are done in order to mislead and manipulate consumers. These online fake reviews reflect a held opinion of the author, however cannot reflect the actual product value, misleading consumers who cannot receive the benefit “reviewing” about. Furthermore, even without any financial motivation, genuine consumers might also post fake reviews because of the psychological effect of reading fake online reviews, which still also result in misleading consumers. 

Fake reviews are essentially done in order to improve the reputation of business and to increase their sales. Oftentimes, fake reviewing is also termed as astroturfing. This is the practice of producing or circulating a fake review that a sensible consumer would believe to be an impartial, third-party recommendation. Not only does astroturfing breach the trust that consumers place on reviews but it also ruins the trustworthiness and credibility that other businesses have worked so hard to establish. 

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Amazon and Fake Reviews

In 2016, Amazon changed its community guidelines regarding reviews because the company has found out that sellers do incentivized reviews. Changes in its community guidelines removed these thousands of reviews except those that came from the Amazon Vine Program. This program allowed Amazon, not the seller or vendor, to recognize trusted reviewers, and has a number of gatekeeping actions in place in order to keep bias removed from the review process.

Since then, Amazon has strictly prohibited compensation for reviews. Businesses who pay for fake reviews and individuals who write them are sued by the company in an effort to make its review and rating system out of bias, fairer, and more helpful to online consumers. 

However, through recent years, in exchange for an “honest” review, Amazon has permitted businesses to offer products to customers. Generally, as compensation for their review, individuals were practically offered the product for free or at a discounted price. The only condition that they had to meet was that they had to state and prove their affiliation with the business in question in the relation to their review. 

Even though, in theory, these individuals could write their true and honest opinion on the product, whether positive or negative, significant biases in favor of the product being rated in these incentivized reviews cannot be removed. This is due to the fact that factors such as the business owner has likely looked for type of reviewers that are less criticizing, and that individuals who do these reviews may opt not to say negative things about the product because they believe they would no longer have the opportunity to receive these sorts of offers again if they do so. 

With all these issues, Amazon decided that the only incentivized reviews will be those from Amazon Vine Program. Amazon believed that this program will help for their review systems to be fairer and better because the company selects who will be allowed to review products. Vine reviewers are only invited to join the program if they have an expertise in a specific product category and after having written a number of reviews voted as helpful by other customers. Furthermore, Amazon primarily established this program in order to boost the review count especially on new or pre-release products that have not yet been able to generate enough sales to have a significant number of consumers’ reviews.

However, the down side of this Vine program is that it is not large enough to be able to help the wide majority of sellers in Amazon. Hence, in recent years, vendors have turned to Facebook and WeChat groups in order to look for people who are willing to write reviews for them. Through these sites, businesses post photos of their products, then ask individuals to leave a positive review in Amazon with the reassurance that they will be refunded after they do so. On top of that, some sellers even offer to pay an additional fee to these reviewers. 

Businesses and vendors do the exchange in third party sites in order to evade detection on Amazon. A reviewer buys the item, they send the photo of their review plus the receipt of the purchase as proof. In the Amazon feed, a “verified purchase” tag is seen on these ratings. With that, they have successfully dodged the controls put in place by Amazon to detect fake and biased reviews. 

Hence, with these reasons above, many of the reviews you see in Amazon today are actually biased and fake. 

Actions being taken for these fake reviews

Just recently, Facebook abolished large US-based groups linked with these kinds of fraudulent schemes, most likely because they violated the company’s rules and regulations against fraud and deception. However, as soon as these groups were removed, many more groups have emerged in replacement of their place.

On one hand, Facebook will continue to remove these groups engaging in paid reviews, fraudulent and deceptive acts, and on the other hand, Amazon will keep on getting rid of reviews that it deems skeptical. However, because of the web of Amazon, Facebook, and social media in general, these biased and fake reviews will surely not go away anytime soon.

In an ideal world, reviews should be a measure of the quality of products being sold in Amazon to consumers. However, reviews can also signal to algorithms whose products should advance to the top. Because Amazon’s platform has a very competitive environment for sellers, it is not far that vendors and businesses will still continue to manipulate the system for their benefit. In the end, it should be remembered that it is Amazon itself that created the problem. Hence, it is the company’s responsibility to solve it too. 

References: 

  1. Elliott, C. Forbes. 2018. This Is Why You Should Not Trust Online Reviews. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherelliott/2018/11/21/why-you-should-not-trust-online-reviews/?sh=25ded6fc2218. Retrieved on 22 January 2021.
  2. Prospero, M. Tom’s Guide. 2018. Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Trust Amazon Reviews. Retrieved from: https://www.tomsguide.com/us/dont-trust-amazon-ratings,news-27936.html#:~:text=%22When%20we%20identify%20companies%20who,the%20company’s%20business%20at%20risk. Retrieved on 22 January 2021.
  3. Schoolov, K. CNBC. 2020. Amazon is filled with fake reviews and it’s getting harder to spot them. Retrieved from: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/06/amazon-reviews-thousands-are-fake-heres-how-to-spot-them.html. Retrieved on 22 January 2021.