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Buyers bribed to post positive Amazon reviews

Written by: Emma Lunn
Shoppers have been offered vouchers, freebies and money in exchange for posting five-star reviews on best-selling products on Amazon Marketplace.

An investigation by Which? found that some Amazon Marketplace sellers are manipulating reviews by incentivising fake and biased reports about products.

The consumer champion looked at dozens of popular products and brands on Amazon Marketplace and by using search terms such as ‘bribe’ and ‘incentive’ found repeated evidence of customers reporting that sellers had approached them with a view to manipulating the rating they left for the product.

Incentivisation and bribes

Which? found that five of the nine Amazon Best Sellers product categories analysed – smartwatches, dash cams, Bluetooth speakers, in-ear headphones and surveillance video equipment – showed repeated evidence of incentivisation.

Twelve products (24%) across the top 10 best sellers in those five categories had reviews from customers stating they were being asked to post five-star reviews or alter or remove their negative feedback. Several reported being chased via email to do so, while others said they were sent cards alongside their products requesting positive reviews in exchange for vouchers or free gifts.

One customer told Which? he was offered £10 to remove a negative review for a USB webcam. When he refused, the offer was upped to £50.

Which? found 11 of 29 (38%) Victure product listings, including a baby monitor, wi-fi booster and wireless security cameras, contained accusations of incentivisation tactics. Another brand, Enacfire, which sells headphones, was also found to routinely manipulate reviews and scores.

A number of Victure customers said that they had been offered complimentary gifts, including an SD card, in exchange for five-star reviews.

Misleading reviews

Which? has also previously uncovered evidence of fake and suspicious review activity on eBay, Facebook and Google.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced its investigation into major websites that host reviews in May 2020. Yet more than a year on it appears Amazon is still falling at the first hurdle by failing to stop review manipulation on some of its best-selling products.

Amazon has a specific anti-manipulation policy for customer reviews stating that any attempts to manipulate reviews is “strictly prohibited.” The platform said that if it determines a seller or brand has attempted to manipulate reviews, it may immediately “suspend or terminate your Amazon privileges, remove reviews, and delist related products.”

Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy at Which?, said: “It’s really concerning that consumers are raising the alarm on misleading tactics by sellers being used on best-selling Amazon products – particularly at a time when more people are shopping online than ever before because of the pandemic.

“Amazon must, as an absolute minimum, do more to enforce its own policies – especially when evidence of manipulation is hidden in plain sight in its Best Sellers lists.

“The CMA needs to urgently get to the bottom of the problem of misleading and fake reviews and be prepared to take strong action to ensure consumers can trust the reviews that influence billions of pounds of spending every year.”

An Amazon spokesperson said: “Our objective is to ensure customers see authentic and relevant reviews so they can make better informed purchasing decisions. To do this, we use powerful machine learning tools and skilled investigators to analyse over 10 million review submissions weekly, aiming to stop abusive reviews before they are ever published.

“In addition, we continue to monitor all existing reviews for signs of abuse and quickly take action if we find an issue. We are relentless in our efforts to protect the integrity of customer reviews. 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.”

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