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Whether you’re tech savvy or not, product reviews are a huge factor in potential online purchases. This is especially the case when it comes... Amazon Reviews – are they always what they seem?

Whether you’re tech savvy or not, product reviews are a huge factor in potential online purchases.

This is especially the case when it comes to Amazon reviews, or any other kind of online shopping platform. Often, we can’t see, feel or try-out the product so we put our faith in those who have.

So, it’s particularly alarming to hear that Amazon’s website has reportedly been flooded with fake five-star reviews. This is the claim of consumer group Which?, who say this underhand tactic helps unfamiliar brands rank high.

The probe concluded that top-rated reviews on items like headphones, fitness trackers and smart watches were surprisingly dominated by these brands. Although there was no evidence that the reviewer had even used the product.

Last September Which? conducted a survey of more than 2,000 adults. It asked them if online customer reviews play a role in helping them make a purchase. A whopping 97% admitted to replying on them.

Moreover, the CMA estimate that £23 billion a year of UK consumer spending could be influenced by these reviews.

Which?’s Hannah Walsh published an article on the website to share their recent findings. In it, she said: “This makes fake reviews a serious problem.

“At best they could mislead you into buying a product that’s not as good as it appeared, at worse you could end up with something that’s not even fit for purpose.”

What did Which? discover about Amazon reviews?

Which? discovered four things in particular when it looked into Amazon reviews. Firstly, ‘unknown’ brands had been dominating popular tech search results. This was likely due to the tens of thousands of positive, yet unverified, reviews.

Products were also loaded with positive reviews that were actually for other items. Meanwhile Which? found that hundreds of (unverified) five-star reviews were left on products in just a single day.

Walsh added: “We searched Amazon for 14 different technology products, including cameras, wearables, headphones and smartwatches, and found that some appear to be far more heavily targeted by potentially fake reviews and ‘unknown’ brands – companies our tech experts had never heard of.

Amazon reviews play a big part in the online shopping experience. Credit: Simon/Pixabay

Amazon reviews play a big part in the online shopping experience. Credit: Simon/Pixabay

“Headphones were by far the worst offender. We analysed the first page of Amazon results in a search for ‘headphones’, sorted by average customer review to find the highest rated products.”

In doing this, Which? discovered a number of interesting statistics. All of the top-ranking products were unknown brands, that even their tech experts had never heard of. As much as 71% of first page products had a perfect 5-star customer review score.

The top five products on the page had around 5,425 reviews. Meanwhile 87% of reviews across products were not confirmed as an Amazon purchase. These findings were based on the first page of Amazon search results for ‘headphones’ on March 28 2019.

Of course, these are very much the headline figures. The study discovered far more than this. Check out the other key findings here.

What is Amazon doing about this?

It is understood that Amazon is using automated technology to deal with false reviews. According to the BBC, Amazon is investing ‘significant resources’ to protect its review system.

Amazon recognises that its customers value fellow shoppers’ experiences. This is why they have been quoted as saying: “even one inauthentic review is one too many”.

Sky News has also reported Amazon’s stance on this development. It echoed the statement found in the BBC report.

Moreover, it voiced Amazon’s “clear participation guidelines” for reviewers and selling partners. Those who violate Amazon policies can be suspended, banned or subject to legal action.

How to spot a fake review

Which? suggest a number of key strategies to make sure you don’t fall foul to misleading posts. These include:

  • Take extra care shopping for brands you don’t know
  • Be suspicious of large numbers of reviews
  • Look for repetition
  • Filter to check for unverified versus verified reviews
  • Look at the dates
  • Check seller profiles
  • Do your research on the brands

Don’t worry, if you’re looking for more help and advice, check out Which?’s full guide to spotting fake reviews.

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