You Can’t Trust Amazon Reviews, Here’s Why

By Faith McKay | 2 weeks ago

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Amazon is the largest global online retailer. It’s surprising to meet someone who doesn’t have an account on their site. Despite the fact that most of us choose products using Amazon reviews, few of us actually leave them ourselves. It’s kind of a hassle, right? Well, third-party sellers who need their products to stand out on the platform need reviews. With so few of us leaving them, and their competition picking up the pace, what are they going to do? Buy fake reviews in bulk online. 

According to Which?, a consumer group in the United Kingdom, there is a widespread fake reviews industry. While the struggle against fraudulent Amazon reviews is nothing new, the selling of bulk reviews continues to be an uphill battle seeming to grow worse over time. This makes sense when you consider that the Amazon marketplace is only growing more competitive for sellers. 

Does this mean we shouldn’t trust Amazon reviews? Well, it definitely means you should be skeptical when you’re browsing them. A lot of them are fake. While Amazon has policies in place to fight fraudulent reviews, scammers are only getting smarter. They know that they need reviewers to write unique reviews. They understand that adding photos will make them seem more legitimate. One signal that should make you skeptical about a product’s online reviews is the number of them. When you see a product that has 30,000 reviews, while the other products in that category have less than a thousand, you’re likely looking at a seller that has paid a lot of fake reviewers for help. 

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Of course, this news is unsettling. Most people rely heavily on Amazon reviews to choose the products they buy. Often, users will check reviews on the marketplace even when making their final purchase somewhere else. 

We put a lot of value on online reviews. On one hand, this is a good strategy for choosing a product you can’t see and test for yourself in person. Amazon reviews seem like a way to see how happy others were with their same purchase. This should be an indication of how happy we’ll be with the purchase. Studies have found that 91% of people read online reviews before making a purchase. How much do they trust what they read? A lot. In fact, 84% of participants said they trust online reviews as much as they trust their friends. 

These are statistics that online sellers know well. Because they are aware of how much reviews influence their customers, they will do anything they need to in order to get them. This means asking their customers for reviews, sending free products to reviewers, and learning the rules for online review systems so that they can get around them. The more Amazon reviews a product has, the higher it will rank in the search results. If you go to Amazon and look for a term as simple as “blender”, the product in the top spot had to do a lot to get there. That product has to get a lot of sales, have the right keywords, a great description, and of course, great reviews.

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Now, all of this depends on customers trusting the legitimacy of those customer comments. If consumers stop trusting Amazon reviews, the company has a major problem. Reviews build social trust only so long as customers believe them. 

To this end, Amazon review policies are always changing to try and keep ahead of what businesses have learned about scamming the system. Amazon pulls reviews if you review your own product. They also do this if you offer a financial incentive for reviews, or if a family member or someone closely associated with you reviews your product. They have been known to use websites like Facebook to determine when you might be related to a reviewer. None of these strategies necessarily stop fraudulent Amazon reviews. 

How do third-party sellers find customers to leave fraudulent Amazon reviews? Public posts on Facebook have proven effective. Sellers send messages to the top listed reviewers on Amazon with special offers. They also post on websites meant to hire writers and ask people to write a quality review for them. These listings come complete with specific instructions on what a quality review means. They typically offer a bonus for videos or pictures of the product.

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Does Amazon care about this? Yes, they likely care about it a lot. While Amazon is huge, they do still have competition. That’s why they are continually updating their policies for Amazon reviews. They have teams dedicated to dealing with the issue. But is Amazon caring about the issue enough to make their review system trustworthy? Does it make their policies efficient in creating a safe space for consumers to find products? With thousands upon thousands of fake Amazon reviews on the marketplace, it only makes sense to approach the reviews with caution.

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