By following the Amazon review controversy, there is evidence that many of these customer reviews have been too good to be true. From the plethora of book reviews that all say that you’ll just die if you don’t read this new novel by an unknown self-published author, to a start-up company getting over the top nearly identical reviews for their new unadvertised product, Reviewers getting compensated for as little as $5 per review means sellers can get as many glowing accolades as they can afford to by. Amazon has been called out for allowing fake reviewers to drive up items in the search engine queue and mislead purchasers.
It is clear that in the past, companies have hired writers to compose fake reviews giving detailed instructions on how to get past the algorithms that spotted fakery. Then came a new, more subtle way for sellers to get glowing reviews, simply offer compensation or a discount for reviewing the product. This has always happened in publishing, where beta readers or advanced readers get a copy of a book for review purposes; however, when more beta readers who are fans of the author on social media write reviews on Amazon than actual customers, it heavily tips the scales.
There’s a line between smart marketing and giving away free or discounted items for a so-called “honest review”. In the past, beta readers or users functioned as a test market–now, in many cases, they are driving the market. Many of these book reviews mention the author by name in the review as if they know of their body of work, even if it’s a debut novel, writing public relations blurb rather than a literary critique.
For years, Amazon has been trying to stay ahead of the game, by filing lawsuits in 2015 against “review mills” authors and asking questions of the poster about the item to get a review published; however, it does not weed out all of the reviews for reward scammers. Some product sellers enticed buyers with deals that made the “exit review” mandatory during the checkout process to receive the discount. It’s evident when you see tons of enthusiastic reviews on the same day as a product launch, with later reviewers going as far as blatantly writing phrases like “The previous reviews for this product seem fake”. for five-star products.
Many of today’s consumers are well aware of the “sock puppet” phenomenon, the beta reader review binge and other cons, but many Amazon customers are putting down their hard earned cash on a product, trusting that if a product got that many 5 star reviews, complete with high praise, it had to be good. Conversely, when the review market is not well regulated, sellers can impact a competitor’s sales by leaving pages of negative reviews.
It’s been too tempting and too easy for sellers to create or get others to create multiple accounts under different names called “sock puppets”, who promote or tear down a seller’s reputation as easily as writing a Facebook post. Unlike a Facebook post, these reviews drive sales and have a direct influence on buyer’s decisions. Some fake reviews are easy to spot as they use similar phrasing and/or identical or nearly identical photo of the product.
Changes being implemented
For many sellers, fake reviews have been a low cost, fast, highly effective marketing plan to get people to buy their product or discourage buyers from going to a competitor. Some reviewers come out and say they got a discount or a beta copy of a new novel in the body of their review text, but many, many do not. It’s the secret that has skyrocketed some little-known manufacturers and authors to a powerful sales presence on the worldwide seller site. Due to the diligence of companies like Amazon, some of these “rater for hire” sites have disbanded and left the web.
In addition. Amazon is making changes to its own Vine program, which consists of a small group of trusted reviewers that are asked to give their honest opinions on products. The purpose of the Vine program is to quality test new products that come on their marketplace. Amazon says that they don’t incentivise their reviewers, and those in the Vine program can choose to leave no review at all.
Amazon is worried that customers will stop using their site if they completely lose trust in the rating system process. Some consumers already have, especially with all of the expose articles about the ratings incentives given to some buyers in exchange for reviews and outright ratings fraud conducted on the site since its launch. Consumers and Amazon both agree these practices have to stop, but how to do it is the question.
It starts with companies like Review Kick, who offer discounts and free promotional items in exchange for reviews. To combat this, Amazon, according to their new Terms of Service Agreement, is no longer allowing Review Kick to force users to review an item in order to get the discounted deal. An added safeguard is that if the customer who got the Review Kick deal wants to leave a review, they “recommend they contact the seller and/or Amazon to make sure that it is OK and if any associated disclaimer should be included with it.”
Will that be enough to curtail biased reviews? Perhaps not as so far every action taken by Amazon has resulted in a reaction of newer and more innovative ways to get reviews past the system. All the consumer can do for now is take the reviews that give the most superlative recommendations with a grain of salt and sellers and reviewers should follow the advice that Amazon gives reviews in their Terms of Service Agreements to abide by their latest guidelines.