Online product reviews are critical to the sale of products. But is this trust being undermined by unscrupulous sellers using gaming product review systems? A lot of indicators point to “yes” unfortunately.
There are many occasions where we rely on reviews to help us distinguish between products or services – especially when there is a multitude of choices. I bought a digital thermometer from Amazon. There were hundreds of options, so I relied on reviews to make my decision. However, every time I used it, the results were completely random, which made it clear that it wasn’t as reliable as the reviews suggested.
I got an email from Amazon asking me to review the product. I responded with an honest and accurate negative review. Because I rely on Amazon to make my purchases, I review them often. As with many customers, I review items that I like and those I don’t.
The next step was quite eye-opening.
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In the weeks that followed my feedback and experience, I received numerous emails offering money to remove the negative review. The email even included instructions for how to proceed.
Despite my reply and declaring that I was not willing to change my honest product review the emails continued. The emails continued to flow after I reported it to Amazon. They took it very seriously.
It got me thinking:
- If this has happened to me, how many other people are tempted by the offer of money, and go ahead and remove a negative online product review?
- Are Amazon sellers willing to pay for positive reviews?
- Are sellers paying people to write negative reviews about the products of their rivals?
- Are reviews really trustworthy?
Numerous studies have proven that user-generated reviews can make a significant impact on conversion rates. However, these studies are often published by review management companies. It is clear that user-generated feedback can have a significant impact on a buyer’s decision, especially when it comes to something more technical or costly like a TV or holiday.
I’d expect that almost everyone reading this post has viewed Amazon, Yelp, or TripAdvisor reviews at some point and that these have influenced the buying decisions that were made.
There are many product options on the internet, read more, all at similar prices, so reviews can make a difference in whether customers click “buy.”
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Gaming the system: Brands are at great risk from bulk buying products online.
A recent investigation and report by Which? It was easy for Amazon sellers to purchase verified reviews in bulk. Just a simple Google search finds a number of companies offering a review generation service. They use methods to circumvent Amazon guidelines and ensure that reviews look genuine.
The majority of the time, the review process will involve you providing your product for reviewers at no cost or at a reduced rate. However, certain services may charge an additional fee to guarantee that your product returns once your review has been submitted. Sellers can purchase feedback from other sellers and vote to increase positive reviews.
These services are available for a starting price of $10 per review. However, prices can rise for specific product categories. This highlights how valuable authentic reviews can be and what dangers companies face if they pay for negative reviews.
Examining the dark side of paid online product reviews
The Which? researchers conducted a study. The Which? researchers assumed the role of an Amazon seller in order to talk to AMZTigers. This company is based in Germany and claims that they have over 60,000 reviews worldwide. The AMZTigers account manager stated that they could help sellers gain Amazon Choice status in as little as 2 weeks.
This is called a big consideration, as Amazon Choice labels are another important differentiator for sellers in the marketplace. It can give the impression that Amazon endorses the product. Amazon will not disclose the exact process by which an item is given ‘Amazon Choice’ status. However, Amazon has stated that the item must be highly rated and well-priced.
Positive reviews can be powerful by the fact that sellers will pay huge sums and give away products for free.
Companies like AMZTigers wouldn’t exist if this were the case.
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Amazon’s review policies
Amazon has very strict policies to protect the integrity of reviews. Amazon claims to analyze more than 10 million reviews per week and to ban, suspend or take legal action against anyone who violates their policies.
In my case, after I reported the seller, Amazon stopped sending me emails offering to remove negative reviews. I assume that Amazon took action, even though the product is still available on Amazon from the same seller.
- Is Amazon doing enough?
- Do they protect the buyers on whom they rely?
These services are easily found online, so it is not a secretive underground service. Many of us may have read reviews about Amazon products that were clearly not for the same product, or that don’t seem real enough to be aware that Amazon’s policies do not prevent this from happening. The problem isn’t limited to Amazon. It is one of the largest marketplaces in the world and deserves attention.
How to spot fake product reviews online
How can customers trust the reviews they read on sites like Amazon, eBay, and Walmart? It is well-known that reviews can make a big difference in a customer’s purchasing decision. If a merchant manipulates the system to generate a lot of suspicious reviews, the customer loses.
Learning how to recognize fake reviews is key to weeding out suspicious reviews. These are red flags:
- Product with a lot recent positive reviews
- Many people leave reviews and attach photos to products. How many of them do this?
- Extensive reviews of products that don’t really need or deserve such detailed reviews
- Reviewers who claim that they were given the product for free
- Review merging refers to reviews that clearly support a related product but are not for it.
Fakespot and ReviewMeta are two other options for detecting fake product reviews. These tools use multiple algorithms to analyze product reviews and are very effective and useful. Both provide users with an overall score that assesses the reliability and accuracy of product reviews. They also give more detail about the patterns they have discovered.
You can also get an adjusted rating for reviews, which usually removes approximately 1 star from your rating. These tools can detect patterns in reviews and remove 1 star from the rating without the user needing to search through thousands of reviews online.
These tools include a plugin that allows you to overlay the Amazon product listing’s review score and display pages. This can be very useful. These tools are not foolproof but the insights and score they provide should be considered when making a purchase.
- Fakespot Chrome plugin changes Amazon’s review score from 4.5 – 3.5
- Fakespot provides detailed analysis for Amazon product reviews.
- These tools are a sign that sellers are having a problem with online product reviews.
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Reviewers can help retailers understand what improvements could be made to their product offerings, whether it’s the selection of products or the way they are described. Review/feedback helps to build an online resource about the retailer’s product offering and customer experience that consumers can easily digest. This could help them make a purchase decision.
Future of reviews
- Customers will stop using reviews as part of their purchasing decisions because they are not trusted. The answer is clear and simple: No.
- Although this is unlikely to cause a major shift, it will slow down the effect of reviews on conversion rates and their value.
- Customer experience is so important because trust is so crucial. It takes a long time to gain and a short time to lose.
- Contrarily, the lower value of gaming systems means that sellers are less likely to pay for fake positive reviews. This could make them more trustworthy, but it would be difficult to predict.
The solution is to make marketplace platforms do more to stop this from happening. My experience with my online review wasn’t unique. We know there is a problem below because companies such as ReviewMeta, Fakespot, and AMZTigers exist and advertise their services openly.
Trust in marketplace reviews will decrease, which will impact consumer trust in the marketplace. Trust is the most important factor in any brand or product’s success. If Amazon reviews aren’t trusted, it makes me less likely to purchase from them.
Marketplaces need to spend more resources to prevent the gaming of their review programs and make the penalties for violating the terms more severe. My case was one in which the seller had clearly and brazenly violated the terms but continued to sell the same product on the marketplace.