One in 10 Amazon shoppers could have been offered an incentive in exchange for a five-star review of an Amazon product in the last year, according to Which? research.
The consumer champion is concerned that unscrupulous sellers are cheating their way to the top of the Amazon rankings by bombarding customers with Amazon gift cards, refunds and free products in exchange for positive reviews of their products.
The research comes as Which? releases a new report outlining a blueprint for how online review platforms, including Amazon, Facebook, Google and Trustpilot, can do more to tackle fake and misleading reviews.
Which?’s nationally representative survey in July 2023 found 10 per cent of people in Great Britain who bought from Amazon in the previous 12 months had received a note or card in the packaging of an Amazon product offering them an incentive for leaving a five-star review. This suggests 4.5 million may potentially have been targeted in this way.
Eight per cent of those who had shopped on Amazon in the previous 12 months told Which? that they were asked by a seller, via email or other communication method, to leave a five-star review in exchange for an incentive.
Worryingly, four per cent were offered a reward for changing a negative review to a positive one.
Which? has been contacted by members of the public who have said that they actually changed their review after they were offered an incentive.
One person that got in touch had originally written a negative review of the product – a pair of pillow cases designed to keep a sleeper’s head cool – but a week or so later the company contacted them to say if the review was changed to a more positive one they would refund the £22 which was paid for the product. After leaving a positive review, they received questions from people on Amazon looking to buy the product – suggesting that people were placing trust in the review.
Another person told Which? they got £50 in Amazon vouchers plus a full refund for leaving a positive review – highlighting how much value there is to sellers in getting positive reviews.
Leaving a positive review in exchange for payment causes harm to other consumers. Previous Which? research found that positive fake reviews can make shoppers more than twice as likely to choose poor-quality products. Which? has also uncovered products on Amazon that people have bought because of the five-star ratings, that have turned out to be poor quality or even dangerous.
One person told Which? that she ordered a handheld vacuum from Amazon, and in the box was a letter offering a £10 gift card in exchange for a five-star review. The Lyyxll Handheld Vacuum had 4,264 ratings, 55 per cent of which are five star. According to the listing, more than 1,000 had been sold in the previous month.
Which? looked at the reviews for the vacuum cleaner, and found evidence of multiple types of review manipulation. Even more concerningly, some people reported dangerous faults with the product while others found the quality to be truly sub-par.
Four reviewers claimed that the power switch on the vacuum cleaner failed, meaning that they were unable to switch it off and had to wait until it ran out of battery. One had received the same incentive offer of a £10 Amazon voucher.
Which? also noticed that there were more than 100 reviews for a completely different product – a worm on a string. Ninety of the reviews were five stars, and the rest were three or four. This practice is known as review merging, where sellers merge the positive reviews of a dormant Amazon listing with their own to boost the number of five-star reviews.
The consumer champion also heard from a member of the public who had bought a cheap IOWODO smart watch from Amazon and been ‘plagued with offers of a free watch’, while someone who had reviewed the product said they had faced ‘harassment’ from the seller ‘over a month of hell’. One person said the seller had promised them money to remove their negative review, while another said they had even seen a one-star review they left simply disappear.
Four of the products uncovered as having suspicious reviews by Which? in its investigation were dispatched by Amazon.
Amazon has access to a huge amount of data to tackle this problem. Signs such as a high number of people changing their reviews could be a flag to investigate a seller or listing, while Which? easily uncovered that some reviewers openly state that they have been offered an incentive or ‘bribe’.
Which? has today released a report calling on platforms to properly assess the risk that their system design and business model poses in relation to fake and misleading reviews and take reasonable and proportionate measures to ensure the reviews they host are genuine – including robust pre and post-publication checks.
The government is currently consulting on how to tackle fake reviews. The consumer champion is calling on the government to ensure that there is legal certainty in the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill and that hosting reviews without taking reasonable and proportionate steps to ensure they are genuine is made a criminal offence, alongside adding offences on the buying and selling of reviews. This would help guarantee tough action is taken to crack down on the problem.
Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said:
“It’s clear that sellers on Amazon are bombarding customers with incentives in order to cheat the system and we have seen evidence that they are successfully evading Amazon’s defences.
“Amazon and other review-hosting websites need to step up and do more to banish fake reviews from their platforms by taking measures that ensure the reviews they host are genuine.
“The government must make hosting fake reviews a criminal offence in its Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill so that regulators can take strong action to crack down on the problem.”
Notes to editors
- Copies of Which?’s ‘Tackling Fake and Misleading Reviews’ policy report are available on request. The report will be going live at the following link at 00:01 Thursday 28th September: https://www.which.co.uk/policy-and-insight/article/tackling-fake-and-misleading-reviews-aVRZu4j3s2yA
- Which? surveyed 1,556 adults between the 28th and 31th July 2023. Fieldwork was carried out online by Deltapoll and the data and data has been weighted to be representative of the population of Great Britain (aged 18+).
- Which? estimates that approximately 4.5 million people received a note or card in the packaging offering them an incentive for leaving a five-star review. This estimate is based on the results of the nationally representative survey and the population estimates of the Office for National Statistics.
- Fake reviews make consumers more than twice as likely to be misled into choosing poor-quality products, Which? reveals
Right of replies
An Amazon spokesperson said:
“We have clear policies that prohibit reviews abuse, and we do not allow sellers to contact customers directly about a review and offer them incentives like gift cards to alter their reviews.
“There is absolutely no place for this kind of activity and we suspend, ban, and take legal action against sellers who violate our policies.
“We had already taken action against the sellers identified by Which? prior to publication of the report and removed a number of reviews.
“Abuse like this, often coordinated outside of our store, is more challenging to detect and stop, and we have a programme to target bad actors that attempt to solicit incentivised reviews though insert cards and emails.
“However, we are constantly developing new ways to prevent this and we urge any customer who has been contacted by a seller about a review to report it so we can take action.
“We are committed to ensuring our reviews remain trustworthy and our goal is to ensure that every review in Amazon’s stores reflects customers’ actual experiences.”
- Customers who have received direct contact from sellers offering compensation of any kind can send this evidence to Amazon by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with details of the product name and a photo or screenshot of the compensation offer.
Lyyxll and IOWODO had not responded by the time of publication.
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