Amazon Marketplace is facing an uphill struggle to stem the tide of fake reviews on its site as a new Which? investigation uncovers a thriving industry where potentially hundreds of thousands of misleading fake reviews, bought and sold for as little as £5 each, are making their way onto the platform.
The consumer champion’s investigation found businesses dedicated to the sale of Amazon reviews in bulk and incentivising positive reviews through the offer of free products or other incentives. Many had advice on how to avoid detection from the online marketplace. Some claimed they could get sellers the coveted Amazon’s Choice endorsement within a fortnight.
Amazon Marketplace is the world’s biggest online marketplace and a lucrative prospect for third-party sellers. It sold an estimated £215 billion worth of products worldwide in 2020.
All of the 10 sites offering review manipulation services that Which? investigated were found easily on the first page of Google search results for terms like ‘make money from reviews’ or ‘get free products’. Some were even sponsored adverts, meaning the business has paid Google to appear at the top of the results and that the ad content has been reviewed by the search engine.
For sellers looking to buy reviews there was an array of different packages they could purchase to boost their products on Amazon – and Which? saw several examples of products where these tactics appeared to have paid off.
Product reviewers who sign up get access to hundreds of products, from children’s toys to exercise equipment, and are offered small payments alongside a free or discounted product – ranging from a few pounds up to more than £10. They even have the option of taking part in loyalty schemes and earning themselves the pick of premium products.
One group, German-based AMZTigers, sells reviews to sellers individually for around £13 or in bulk packages, starting at £620 for 50 reviews and going up to an eye-watering £8,000 for 1,000 reviews. It claims to have a large army of reviewers – 62,000 globally and 20,000 UK-based.
Which? pretended to be a seller and spoke to an account manager for AMZTigers who recommended aiming for reviews on a certain percentage of sales, warning that any more than that could be flagged as suspicious by Amazon. They also told Which? that the company could help sellers get an Amazon’s Choice endorsement in less than two weeks by using its pool of buyers to generate sales on certain search terms – such as ‘Bluetooth headphones’ – on Amazon.
Another site, AMZDiscover, allows sellers to search the URL of an existing Amazon listing, and then download contact details for the reviewers of the product so they can contact them, unsolicited, directly. The company claims some clients have downloaded 40,000 email addresses for potential reviewers.
All the sites Which? signed up to gave advice for how to write reviews so as not to arouse Amazon’s suspicion, and in many cases had criteria for reviewers to meet to qualify for rewards. These included leaving reviews that were at least two sentences long, posting an accompanying image or video and not posting reviews until at least four days after receiving a product. Some sites also had no return policies – as returned products are monitored by Amazon and high return rates can affect the chance of an Amazon’s Choice endorsement.
For one of the review sites Which? signed up to, users claimed in reviews left on Trustpilot that they had left an honest product review of three stars or less, only to be told this meant they were not eligible for a refund as reviews had to be four or five stars.
Which? also found products on Amazon Marketplace where it appeared that incentivising reviewers had paid off for third-party sellers. A pair of Enacfire headphones that was being offered to reviewers on website Rebatest for free instead of the usual £35 price, had amassed 21,670 ratings and a 4.4 star customer score on Amazon. Enacfire told Which? that it has no knowledge of, or involvement in, rebates in exchange for reviews.
Other listings being offered by third-party marketplace sellers on review sites included a free Lavolta Acer laptop charger, that also came with a £3 payment for a review on website TesterJob, that had an Amazon’s Choice endorsement, while an Owkey branded Samsung Galaxy A20e phone cover offered on the same site had 226 ratings and an Amazon’s Choice badge.
All of these tactics are strictly against Amazon’s terms and conditions. The online marketplace told Which? that it has won dozens of injunctions against providers of fake reviews across Europe and won’t shy away from taking legal action – but warned that Amazon and other online retailers cannot do this alone.
Which? research, and a CMA investigation, have also previously exposed the issue of Facebook groups trading fake Amazon reviews.
To protect consumers from being misled, the consumer champion is calling on the regulator to take swift and effective action that puts a stop to sites that are trading, or facilitating the trading of, fake reviews, a practice which is likely to be in breach of consumer law.
Online platforms, including Amazon, must also do more to proactively prevent fake reviews infiltrating their sites. This includes working with other tech firms like Google and Facebook, where these fake review firms and groups thrive, to shut them down.
If online platforms do not take responsibility, the government must urgently strengthen online consumer protections, including platforms’ legal responsibilities for fake and misleading review activity, so that sites can be held to account if they fail to keep their users safe.
Natalie Hitchins, Head of Home Products and Services at Which?, said:
“More people are shopping online than ever before due to the coronavirus crisis – yet our latest research shows that Amazon is facing an uphill struggle against a relentless and widespread fake reviews industry geared towards misleading consumers.
“The regulator must crack down on bad actors and hold sites to account if they fail to keep their users safe. If it is unable to do so, the government must urgently strengthen online consumer protections.
“Amazon, and other online platforms, must do more to proactively prevent fake reviews infiltrating their sites so that consumers can trust the integrity of their reviews.”
Notes to editors
In December 2020, Which? went undercover to sign up to 10 sites offering review manipulation services on Amazon, posing as either a seller or a potential reviewer.
Which? advice on how to spot a fake review: https://www.which.co.uk/
reviews/online-shopping/ article/online-shopping/how- to-spot-a-fake-review- aiDaS3e1ivfr
Which? is also about to publish an advice guide on how to use Amazon reviews, it looks at:
How Amazon’s review landscape has changed – what to make of global reviews, and one-click ratings
How to master the mechanics of Amazon reviews to spot signs of fakes and incentivisation, and get the most useful seller feedback on products
How our fake review experts sniff out suspicious signals, based on evidence from our previous investigations
This guide goes live at the following URL at 00:01 on Tuesday 16th February: https://www.which.co.uk/news/
Review sites looked at by Which? included:
Rights of reply
An Amazon spokesperson said:
“We remove fake reviews and take action against anyone involved in abuse. We have won dozens of injunctions against providers of fake reviews across Europe and we won’t shy away from taking legal action.
“However, Amazon and other online retailers cannot do this alone. Customers need to be able to trust the reviews they see online and the systematic manipulation of reviews needs consistent enforcement and global coordination with stronger enforcement powers given to regulators against bad actors.
“We continue to work to protect the authenticity of customer reviews. We advise customers who doubt the credibility of a review on a product to click the ‘report abuse’ link available below each review. We will then investigate and take necessary measures.”
Which? shared its findings with Amazon and when researchers checked both the Lavolta charger and Owkey phone cover no longer had Amazon’s Choice endorsements. The Enacfire headphones had gathered a further 3,110 ratings on the listing in less than a month.
According to Google the ads shared by Which? were reviewed and action was taken on those that violated its policies. It has strict policies that govern the kinds of ads that it allows to run on its platform and enforces those policies vigorously, and if it finds ads that are in violation it removes them.
According to Google users should be able to trust the ads they are seeing and because of this it is invested in creating a safe digital advertising ecosystem for users, advertisers and publishers. In 2019, its team took down approximately 2.7 billion bad ads.
On Google Search, for topics where quality information is particularly important—like health, finance, civic information, and crisis situations— Google highlights that it places an even greater emphasis on factors related to expertise and trustworthiness.
AMZDiscover, AMZTigers, AppSally, Cashbackbase, Jump Send, Nicerebate, Rebatest, Severnvine, TesterJob
At the time of publication, none of these review sites had responded to Which? requests for comment.
Enacfire would like to state it has no knowledge, involvement and does not endorse offering rebates in exchange for reviews whether that be on the Rebatest site or any other. Enacfire has many satisfied customers and positive reviews from its customers and from independent media and is confident it is offering great audio products at an affordable price.
At the time of publication, the brand hadn’t responded to Which?’s request for comment
Which? was unable to find contact details for this company
Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.
The information in this press release is for editorial use by journalists and media outlets only. Any business seeking to reproduce information in this release should contact the Which? Endorsement Scheme team at firstname.lastname@example.org.