Amazon has quickly become the largest distributor of online goods in the United States. Whatever you are looking for, you can surely find it on Amazon.com. Often, there are a number of companies or individuals offering the same product on Amazon or there are a number of different products that appear relatively similar. In those cases, Amazon users rely heavily on the product reviews to determine which product to buy. The question is, how reliable are these reviews?
One example really puts the quality of these reviews into question. A teenager, by the name of Travis, used Amazon in order to buy a trigger lock to prevent his gun from firing in the house. While looking around on Amazon, he found a trigger lock with almost all five-star reviews. He bought the trigger lock assuming from the reviews that it would work well. He quickly realized that the product he received was actually a cheap piece of plastic that did not serve its stated purpose. In turn, he went to the store and purchased a trigger lock that did actually work.
When purchasing the product from Amazon, Travis didn’t consider the possibility that the reviews given wouldn’t be real, but looking back, he definitely thinks the reviews were paid for. Travis knows because he now writes Amazon product reviews for money. Although he doesn’t love the idea, he needs the money, and so do many of the others who do the same.
Paid reviews are becoming a real problem in the e-commerce marketplace. Two of the many outsider auditors, Fakespot and ReviewMeta, estimated that more than half of product reviews are questionable. Amazon disagrees with that statement, arguing that only 1% of reviews are inauthentic or related to suspicious activity. When asked specifically about reviews, Sharon Chiarella, Vice President of Community Shopping at Amazon, said, “we have built a lot of technology to assess whether or not we think a review is authentic. The star rating, a lot of people think that’s an average… it’s actually much more intelligent. It’s a weighted calculation that gives more weight to reviews we trust more and less to reviews we trust less.”
Amazon, as a whole, claims they are on the lookout for these reviews and in the past three years, they have sued more than 1,000 sellers for buying reviews. As Amazon increases its depth and breadth in finding these false reviewers, the paid reviewers employ their own processes. Travis, the paid reviewer, operates by approaching a seller and then negotiating terms. Once terms are agreed upon, Travis will buy the product, leave a review, and then the seller will refund his purchase and add a few dollars of commission. With the agreement, the seller often supplies explicit directions on how to buy and leave the review to avoid suspicion from Amazon.
In the end, the problem of paid reviewing persists and does not currently have a feasible solution. While there are great ways to crack down on the abuses, paid reviewers will continue to evolve to evade being caught. For that reason, auditors and customers alike recommend using review sites like CNET or Wirecutter to find authentic reviews.