Unethical Reviewers Pulled From Amazon

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Amazon has a lot of people posting reviews at their site. Anyone can review anything they sell… although those who have purchased the item from Amazon get a “verified purchase” tag. Amazon uses these reviews, among many other factors, to determine search rankings.

Vendors have figured that out, especially those vendors that sell easy-to-make items such as dietary supplements, cellphone cases, and various bits of offshore-manufactured small electronics (like charging cables and selfie sticks). They want lots of five-star reviews, and they are willing to give away their products for free or cheap to get them. Often, so the reviewer has the “verified” tag, they’ll provide a discount code for the person to use to order the item, so it looks like a purchase, but the customer didn’t spend much of anything.

Many people like this deal. “I’ll say I liked the product I didn’t spend anything on, and vendors will give me more free stuff.” Those who lose out are the potential customers who are legitimately trying to shop for items and want to know what real buyers thought of the product. As of last year, most consumers use online reviews to guide their buying. However, “a majority of the opinion seekers say they don’t trust a product that has only positive reviews.”

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Now, Amazon has cracked down on poor review practices. There’s a lot of information in that article, talking about some of the worst review offenders, but the high points are these:

Reviewers who violate Amazon’s guidelines by asking readers to vote them higher in helpfulness or who review more than people could legitimately use or whose reviews are rewritten promo material or who participated in “coupon clubs” have been removed from the site. A “coupon club” is a site like this one that lists free/cheap products reviewers can “order”. The reviewer is expected to provide a positive review and upvote reviews by other club members in order to keep getting free stuff.

Customers are sick and tired of seeing useless reviews giving high star ratings. Many are ignoring any with the disclaimer “I received this product in exchange for a fair and honest review.” or similar. (I disclose my review copies, as the FTC requires, but I would never use wording like that, because it implies that some of your reviews are not fair or honest.) Unfortunately, many have concluded that anyone who gets anything for free, regardless of their reviews or ethics, must have been swayed by the gift, calling into question for them the entire practice of review copies.

This post at the Amazon reviewers forum reveals that Amazon has been cracking down on this behavior, starting at the end of December. Even top reviewers have had their privileges revoked, and items purchased at a huge discount (percentage not revealed) will no longer get the verified label.

Disclaimer: I review at Amazon, mostly reposts of things you’ve read here. And I’ve been approached by some of these vendors directly, I think based on them mass-mailing the list of ranked Amazon reviewers. The one thing of that type I’ve reviewed so far, I gave 3 stars, so they asked for it to be removed.



3 comments

  • Three stars = “asked to be removed”? Gather they didn’t want anything less than perfectly glowing,despite three out of five stars still pretty OK.

  • Jim Kosmicki

    my personal strategy for Amazon is to look at the one star just to see what’s got people’s knickers in a twist. But I pay the most attention to the middle reviews, primarily the 3 star. I find those to be the most honest in terms of usually indicating positives and negatives, not just one or the other. So companies that are trying to eliminate those middle reviews are ultimately making me less likely to purchase their product, not more.

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