In our October 2018 blog post
, we reported on the growing scandal of fake reviews and how consumer magazine, Which? uncovered several schemes used by unscrupulous retailers in order to boost their product’s visibility and ratings on Amazon. The investigation by Which? exposed several Facebook groups boasting tens of thousands of members who were offered cash or discount incentives in order to provide phony reviews for products they often had not purchased.
Despite concerted efforts to crack down on inauthentic reviews, Amazon continues to be ‘flooded by fake 5 star reviews’ according to the latest investigation by Which? as reported by the BBC
. This begs the question, why isn’t Amazon doing more to protect consumers and honest retailers from the onslaught of computer-generated and paid-for reviews?
Why Are Fake Reviews so Difficult to Regulate?
When contacted by Which?
in relation to the detection of suspicious review activity on products hosted by their site, an Amazon spokesperson responded by saying: ‘‘We take the integrity of our reviews seriously and take decisive action to protect customers from dishonest parties… we’ve filed lawsuits against more than 1,000 defendants for reviews abuse.’
As well as legal action, Amazon have implemented several safeguarding measures against review malpractice such as a ban on paid-for reviews that operate outside of its Vine program and the introduction of a ‘disclosure’ informing customers when a reviewer has been incentivised in some way.
Amazon also restricted eligibility to review a product to customers who had spent at least £40 on the site within the last 12 months in an attempt to prevent the creation of multiple fake accounts.
However, despite such preventative measures, fake reviews are a persistent and seemingly malignant problem as dishonest sellers continue to exploit Amazon’s review system by circumnavigating the platform’s restrictions.
One way of ‘beating the system’ is to exploit Amazon’s ‘variations’ feature by listing dozens of erroneous colour or size variations for a product thus enabling multiple dishonest 5 star reviews for the same product.
The practice of manipulating Amazon’s algorithms by inundating products with false reviews is so effective that household name retailers are often nowhere to be seen in top-rated reviews for popular electronic items.
In addition to this, fraudsters are manipulating Amazon’s verified purchase feature by promising ‘customers’ full refunds in exchange for glowing reviews of their products. Safe to say, such ‘refunds’ more often than not, never materialise.
So, the Review Platform is Dead, Right? Why Don’t we Just Scrap it and Move on?
Some might argue that the integrity of online reviews has become so questionable that customers no longer trust the process thus rendering the entire system obsolete.
However, despite the pitfalls of such a manipulatable system, genuine and organic customer reviews are still a powerful tool to promote products and boost sales —people value the opinions of fellow shoppers.
Faith in the system remains strong with a recent study
reporting that 84 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation and that the vast majority of customers will read a product’s reviews before committing to purchase.
Other People Matter
Reviews are a great way for customers to express themselves and to be heard in the often faceless world of ecommerce; it’s human nature to share our experiences—psychologically, we are hardwired with a desire to connect and belong
Being connected to others matters and the sharing of experiences is central to that connection as Psychology Today
reports: “Much of human behavior, thought and emotion stems from our psychological need to belong …Belonging also takes shape on the grounds of shared experiences.”
This strong psychological desire to belong and share experiences may explain why online reviews are still so popular amongst consumers despite warnings that the system is flawed.
Reading the experiences of a seemingly impartial third-party arouses feelings of trust and a desire to belong to a group of people sharing similar experiences making it far more likely that the customer will buy your product.
Reviews are Empowering
As well as stirring a feeling of belonging, online reviews can be very empowering for customers and retailers alike. Online reviewing platforms put the customers in control of their own experience enabling them to tell their story on their own terms. This may be worrying for retailers who fear reprisals from disgruntled customers but even negative reviews can present an opportunity to promote your products and showcase your customer service.
Potential customers think highly of businesses who respond to online complaints in a professional and understanding manner. Addressing issues customers may have in the form of a review response is a great way to improve your service and show anyone reading that they will be listened to should they encounter a problem when buying from you.
O.K, So Reviews are here to Stay— How can We Fight Back Against the Fakes?
Fake reviews are a growing problem and they are bad news not only for businesses but for customers too who rely on a system of trust and reciprocal honesty. The good news is that fake reviews should be relatively easy to spot if you follow these 5 top tips when looking out for them:
1. Don’t rely on ratings – delve deeper and read the reviews. Do they sound natural? Are they too long or short? Are they repetitive?
2. Check the dates – look at when the reviews were posted. If many of them were posted in a short time period, it might mean there has been a push for reviews on Facebook groups or other platforms.
3. Are the reviews impartial? – click on some reviewers and check their history. Do they give everything five stars? What else have they bought? If they’ve bought multiple of the same type of product in the space of a couple of months, they might be a member of a review group.
4. Difference of opinion – if people are praising an aspect or feature of the product that others are highly critical of, it might be suspicious.
5. Pattern of ratings – are the ratings at different ends of the scale with very little in between? It’s rare that people are completely polarised about a product.
Once you have identified reviews for a product or business that you believe are inauthentic, you should gather as much evidence as you can to back up your findings and notify Amazon Seller Support. Remember, fake reviews are fraudulent and directly violate Amazon’s Community Guidelines so all reports will be acted upon even if you do not receive a direct update or response— Amazon has pledged to investigate all cases of alleged review malpractice.
Fake Negative Reviews are a Thing Too
So far, we have discussed how fake positive reviews can be bad for business but another, more insidious trend, is the alarming increase in fake negative feedback. Unscrupulous competitors are increasingly engaging in machiavellian smear tactics designed to undermine the reputation of rival retailers via false reviews. When dealing with malicious reviews, it is always important to act quickly and that is why monitoring software is such an effective weapon in the war against unethical competitors. The sooner you report fake negative reviews, the better chance you have of ensuring your company’s integrity and reputation remain untarnished.
In the battle against fake reviews, vigilance remains key— regularly monitoring your own and competitor's reviews can play a vital role in protecting your brand from dishonest sellers and that is why so many businesses are turning to monitoring software allowing them to stay one step ahead of the fraudsters.