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Amazon Out to Eliminate Incentivized Reviews

The e-commerce giant is cracking down hard on incentivized reviews.

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In a bold move this week, Amazon issued a formal statement regarding customer reviews. The gist is that reviews written in exchange for discounted or free products will now be banned from the site. The only loophole here are reviews linked to Amazon Vine, an in-house program designed to offer high-quality, honest user feedback.

Through Vine, Amazon carefully selects reviewers deemed to be trustworthy. It's an invitation-only program where reviewers are chosen based on a variety of factors, like the helpfulness of their reviews and whether or not they appear to be experts in a certain product area.

Prior to this week's announcement, sellers were also able to seek out users to write reviews, typically in exchange for product freebies. Users who had received the product for free or at a discount were obligated to note that in their review.

"Of the 360,000 Amazon user reviews they looked at (which covered 488 products), more than 82% of incentivized users gave five-star ratings, compared to just 62% of un-incentivized users."

The news is a potential game changer. It's no secret that Amazon reviews aren't always the most reliable. The site has become inundated with phony reviews, making it difficult for shoppers to know if the products they're buying are as good as the user ratings claim.

The problem comes down to the authenticity of "paid-for" reviews, which are often inherently biased. One BestReviews.com study found that incentivized reviews are way more likely to be positive. Of the 360,000 Amazon user reviews they looked at (which covered 488 products), more than 82% of incentivized users gave five-star ratings, compared to just 62% of un-incentivized users.

Take this iPhone 7 case, for example. It has a 4.8 out of 5 rating with 34 user reviews — 85% of which gave a five-star rating. The problem is that when you run the URL through Fakespot (a handy site that analyzes Amazon links for shady reviews), it received an "F" for authenticity. More than 67% of the reviews were deemed low-quality. This doesn't necessarily mean that the product itself is bad; it just alerts the shopper that there are a lot of incentivized reviews in there. And if you look at the reviews themselves, many say that the reviewer received the product at a discount in exchange for an "honest" review, which is a tell-tale sign of an incentivized review.

If the reviews are indeed honest, then what's the problem? Prior to this new Amazon announcement, it was the seller who got to choose which reviewers they'd extend these free or discounted products to. In other words, if you're an incentivized reviewer giving out crummy ratings, it's fair to reason that you won't be chosen again in the future. (Translation: So long, free stuff.) This much-buzzed about video from Review Meta touches on the details (click to play on YouTube).

video

The fact that Amazon is out to eliminate all paid-for reviews once and for all is significant — and not surprising given that they've previously been involved in a number of lawsuits to punish those buying or selling fake reviews. But whether or not the new rules actually weed them out is yet to be seen. Slickdeals user Pedantyc puts it like this:

"I doubt this will change anything. I have had several sellers offer to refund a percentage of a purchase for a 5-star review. Not much Amazon can do to police these things."

A recent Forbes article identified another potential problem. Under the new Amazon rules, sellers are no longer allowed to offer free or discounted products in exchange for a review. However, the products themselves can still be offered. "If the recipient happens to write a review afterwards, that’s apparently fine," writes Emma Woollacott of Forbes. "And, if they no longer include the fact that they’ve had a freebie, the problem of fake reviews could become worse, not better."

Until then, we'll be watching how this thing unfolds.

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Marianne Hayes Contributor

Marianne Hayes is a freelance writer, wife and mother in Tampa Bay. After earning a degree in journalism and creative writing from the University of Central Florida, she spent nearly a decade getting lost in New York City and Los Angeles before making her way back home again in 2014. Marianne's writing has appeared in a variety of publications including The Huffington Post, Forbes.com, LearnVest, The Daily Beast and more. When she's not writing, Marianne is usually cruising her local bookstore with her two daughters.

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7 Comments

1
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#2
This is great! Some of the product categories on amazon are so full of these reviews it's hard to tell if everything's great or if everything is trash.
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#3
I feel this was a bad move and a good move. Those people who gave honest reviews like myself were penalized. I still paid for most of these products, I'm not going to force a fake good review for any crappy product, and it showed as most of my reviews were not 5 star, and quite a few are 1 star. And a number that I initially had 5 stars that didn't last I updated my review and stars to show for it. So, for me, this sucks as I am an actual honest reviewer and I took time to make proper reviews for those items. And now, I don't feel like giving amazon reviews ever again. Which sucks for the community as mine were worth reading and most are not.
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#4
Not only are the product reviews fake, the seller reviews are as well.

I've gotten product for free for review before. Now that Amazon went this route the sellers are offering product for sale through amazon for <$1 by dropping the prices for just a few minutes and allowing their reviewers to buy at that price. So Amazon's efforts weren't effective.

That having been said, I always gave a fair review of the product, and it was often an item or category I'd intended to purchase anyhow.
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#5
I have been given items free to review. My reviews legit. This isn't going to help.

Vine reviews are the worse.
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#6
There will be those for instance "likenew" who state they posted honest reviews.. Unfortunately, it's just very difficult to sift through reviews when incentivized reviews are allowed. I think this is a very good move, and in the long run will be better for everyone, esp those who look to Amazon for honest reviews.
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#7
Quote from tenkay View Post :
Not only are the product reviews fake, the seller reviews are as well.

I've gotten product for free for review before. Now that Amazon went this route the sellers are offering product for sale through amazon for <$1 by dropping the prices for just a few minutes and allowing their reviewers to buy at that price. So Amazon's efforts weren't effective.

That having been said, I always gave a fair review of the product, and it was often an item or category I'd intended to purchase anyhow.
How do you figure the seller reviews are fake? Providing feedback regarding a seller can only be made by those who've purchased a product from that seller, and it's not actually a review, it's feedback regarding how well the sale of the product was handled - shipping, packaging, whether item arrived in the described condition. The only time I've seen a "fake seller review" is when someone posts in the product review area. Which to me indicates 1. They don't know what they're doing, Or, 2. They have an agenda - which is often pretty obvious.
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#8
I bought a "new" pc from a seller with solid seller reviews. When I got it, it was full of used parts, including a 5 year old hard drive. The seller gave me the finger and said I could return it, but if the "new" PC had any used parts in it when he got it back, he'd charge me retail for each.

When I looked at the reviews for the seller, there were 20-30 per day (this company is one guy working out of his house yet he manages to ship 30 computers a day. Every review was 5* with usually one word "Great" or "Nice". No capitalization, rarely more than one word and never lower than 4* and it seemed the folks who wrote 4* reviews were very confused.

What are the odds that one guy can ship a thousand computers a year all by himself, and nothing bad ever happens warranting a bad review.

Amazon refused to do anything about it. I wrote a fair one star review noting that I bought a new computer from him and it came with used parts, and that he wasn't friendly about returns. Three weeks later Amazon deleted it.

So product reviews AND seller reviews appear to be easy to rig.
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