'Unscrupulous tactics' used to obtain positive Amazon reviews, investigation finds

Amazon is struggling to spot and prevent sellers from using unscrupulous tactics to manipulate their ratings, a consumer watchdog has warned.

Some products sold on Amazon have been found to have suspicious looking reviews.
Some products sold on Amazon have been found to have suspicious looking reviews.

An investigation by Which? found “blatant evidence” of sellers incentivising shoppers to write positive reviews, using free gifts or vouchers, as well as large numbers of positive product reviews uploaded in a “suspiciously short” space of time. Products with colour ‘variations’ manipulated to create higher numbers of positive reviews were also spotted, as well as reports of accounts being hacked for fake reviews to be left.

Fake reviews are a big problem on many of the world’s biggest websites and Which? has also previously uncovered evidence of fake and suspicious review activity on eBay, Facebook and TripAdvisor.

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Data from analysts ReviewMeta found that there was a more than 30 per cent rise in the proportion of unnatural reviews on Amazon between March and August following the first coronavirus lockdown. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has previously estimated that £23 billion a year of consumer transactions are influenced by online reviews.

Natalie Hitchins, Which? head of home products and services, said: “Our investigation has uncovered popular Black Friday product categories that are littered with fake and suspicious reviews – suggesting that deals that look too good to be true often are.

“With people more reliant on online shopping than ever before due to the coronavirus crisis, it’s vital that online platforms step up and do more to protect their users from fake reviews, otherwise the regulator must be prepared to swiftly step in with strong action.”

A spokesperson for Amazon said the company uses machine learning tools and investigators to analyse over 10 million review submissions every week.

He said: “In addition, we continue to monitor all existing reviews for signs of abuse and quickly take action if we find an issue. We also proactively work with social media sites to report bad actors who are cultivating abusive reviews outside our store, and we’ve sued thousands of bad actors for attempting to abuse our reviews systems.

“We encourage customers concerned about the authenticity of reviews left on a product to use the “Report abuse” link, available on each review, so that we can investigate and take the appropriate actions.”

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