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Can You Really Trust Amazon Product Reviews?

Fake Amazon reviews have become a real problem. We took at look at how common they are and, more importantly, how to spot them.
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Amazon reviews fake

If pouring over user reviews is part of your online shopping experience, it may be time to rethink your research strategy. It turns out that a good chunk of Amazon reviews are indeed phony, or at least not entirely unbiased.

The sheer prevalence of five-star ratings is a red flag in itself. BestReviews.com recently took a closer peek at 360,000 Amazon user reviews that spanned nearly 500 products. What they found was an abnormally high number of user-generated five-star ratings, especially when compared to other popular sites that also spotlight consumer reviews (think Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc.).

A whopping 66.3 percent of ratings on Amazon were five-star ones. This begs the question: is it really possible for so many listings to be that amazing? It doesn't seem likely.

As BestReviews points out, positive reviews can make a big difference in whether or not a product sells on Amazon. To attract buyers, some manufacturers are willing to pay for user reviews, using free or discounted products as compensation. (Paying cash directly for user reviews is strictly forbidden by Amazon.) When this is the case, Amazon requires that the reviewers indicate it in their review and confirm that their rating is an honest one.

Still, the BestReviews study found that "paid" reviews were much more likely to snag five-star ratings. (More than 82 percent doled out perfect reviews. That number hovered around the 65 percent mark when written by people who hadn't been compensated for their review.) These numbers were even steeper where new products were concerned; 96 percent of "paid" reviews gave four to five stars. In other words, it appears that not all Amazon reviews are created equal.

Why Slickdealers Should Care

When it comes to determining which Amazon deals are worthy of sharing, fake reviews can easily muck up the waters. After checking out Fakespot (more on this tool in a bit), the Slickdeals team started regularly catching Amazon "deals" being posted that were loaded with biased, dubious reviews. In some cases, up to 90 percent of reviews were eventually identified as suspicious.

To help weed out the duds, we recently went as far as to change our rules for products sold by Amazon third-party sellers. In order for these products to make the cut on Slickdeals, they now must:

  • have at least a 1,000+ store rating
  • have a minimum of 50 reviews, with 80 percent being deemed acceptable by Fakespot

Deals that don't meet the criteria will be removed by moderators, with exceptions being made by deal editors on a case-by-case basis. The new system was designed with the Slickdealer in mind; sketchy deals have no place on the site.

What Amazon Is Doing About Fake Reviews?

We're not the only ones cracking down on the problem. Amazon is also taking its own measures. To help buyers navigate the review system, the online retailer currently marks organic reviews with a "Verified Purchase" label. (Translation: the person who wrote it bought the product from Amazon at the usual price and was not pressured to write a review.)

Amazon is also taking the problem of reviewers receiving cash payments to court. Since last spring, they've filed a total of three lawsuits aimed at over a thousand supposed fake reviewers. The final outcome remains to be seen, but at least they're not turning a blind eye to the issue.

Identifying Fake Amazon Reviews

Now for the good stuff — how do you actually spot a fake Amazon review from an authentic one? As mentioned above, reviewers who've been compensated for their feedback are required to disclose this to buyers. BestReviews says that these reviews typically include the designation of an "honest review" somewhere in the text.

Take these Bluetooth speakers, for example. Amazon user JENNIE, who gave them four stars, also writes that she received the product "at a discount in exchange for my honest review versus paying full price."

If you want to take it a step further, run the URL through Fakespot. (Here's a CNET article with more instructions on how to do that.) The free site, which analyzes Amazon product links for suspicious reviews, gives these same speakers a failing grade where authentic reviews are concerned. Among the reasons why, it says that a major number of the 300+ reviews are of low quality. It even goes as far as to pinpoint a specific user who has a history of reviewing products without purchasing them, and who is also known to post large chunks of reviews on the same date. Fakespot also has a Chrome extension you can add to your browser for quicker access.

While this is clearly pretty valuable, we'll be the first to admit that Fakespot isn't perfect. Some great products can still fall victim to a poor grade. (The Amazon Fire only earns a "C" on Fakespot.) Even so, the site can help spotlight some seriously low-quality reviews.

In the meantime, it may be wise to take Amazon reviews with a grain of salt — especially when the reviewer has been compensated for their feedback. On our end, we're doing our best to filter out potentially shady deals from third-party sellers.

What's your take on fake Amazon reviews?



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About the Author
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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27 Comments

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HIDDEN GBV1931 04-29-2016 at 09:33 AM
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#3
There are a lot of suspicious reviews on Amazon. Also, I rarely write reviews there anymore. What you will find is that when you write a 5 star review on Amazon the price of that item eventually goes up. You are basically spending time to write a review so that you can pay more for the item later.
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#4
I don't trust the reviews off of amazon, a lot of reviews even on other sites are bundling reviews of similar products or stuff with the same brand name like "asus"

I normally don't write reviews unless I have a bad experience to warn people... I had an issue with a used book i bought for this semester and what I got compared to what I ordered was extremely misconstrued... book had a broken spine, a bazillion notes pasted to the pages.. it was a mess of what I got and if I had known that was what I was getting I would have just bought a new book and resold it once I was done with it. That review I wrote was bounced back at me and blocked by amazon because it supposedly had bad language or something racist, religious, or offensive. My review was what I just wrote, I was unhappy with my purchase and hoped they would add a picture in the future of the used item you were getting like you can find on cowboom most of the time. Apparently anything actually negative gets filtered by amazon
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HIDDEN tc17 04-29-2016 at 08:59 PM
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Our community has rated this post as helpful. If you agree, why not rep jmanis?
#6
tc17 - I think the whole point of this article is to simply educate everyone that there are some fake and biased reviews out there. It sounds like you are very thorough and honest with your reviews and that is great but probably in the minority. If I put myself in your shoes and I was able to get a good to substantial discount on a product and it was a product that I was happy to receive I would find it hard not to be a little bias. Getting a deal on something always seems to make me feel a little better. Heck, 1/2 of my slickdeals purchases are influenced by getting a deal and not because it's something I truly need. The point I am trying to make is that an honest assessment of me receiving a discount on a nice Amazon product probably would result in me giving it a slightly higher rating whether I meant to or not (getting a good deal puts people me and other people in a good mood). tc17 you are implying that a discount does not sway your review but I can only think that there are much fewer people like you than there are people like me...
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Last edited by jmanis April 30, 2016 at 09:53 AM.
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#7
I think all the fake reviews have moved the bar for reliability of amazon ratings no matter the integrity of individual paid reviewers. My own basis is that a paid reviewer is not in the right position to assign a non-biased rating because inherently the ratings take into account the value proposition. In other words, how will one's rating vary if they paid nothing (or a discounted price) vs. if they paid full price for it? Isn't the quality of the product for the money paid a part of the rating? For me, price matters. I don't expect a $10 gadget to perform like a $100 one.

Secondly the yard stick has moved because I always allow for the possibility of fake reviews. So when I used to be content with a product having 30-50 positive reviews, I now view this amount of reviews as too low to be trusted. Too easy to bias the results on such a small sample size. So I tend to trust general review ratings above a few hundreds when I know it becomes hard for a manufacturer to influence ratings that much.

I think this article points out very well the state of the amazon reviews trustworthiness. I've started using fakespot a few months ago as I felt it became needed. So I was glad to see SD staff take an interest in this situation as well and raise awareness about what they do to counter all those fake reviews.
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#8
Quote from tc17
:
What's the point of this article on slickdeals?

I write reviews for another merchant and I guarantee you they are not biased or fake. Sounds more like someone is jealous. I spend a lot of time on my reviews, far more time than value of the product is even worth.

I have shopped online for many years now, and from my experience it's the one star reviews which are more likely to be fake. Companies like to trash competitors products, or fanboys of certain brands like to trash the competition. Even a verified purchase can still be someone buying it just so they can write their negative reviews then return it.

I have bought products that work great for me, only to read negative reviews which I know what they are stating is not true.

I find it absurd someone is comparing amazon reviews to Yelp and TripAdvisor which neither even sell merchandise that Amazon does. What a joke. I have a right to be angry because you are insulting people writing reviews calling them liars. I could say the same about this story as being a lie.
That escalated quickly.
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#9
I would also add that often, the review of a product you buy from Amazon when it's fresh and shiny out the box is often 4 or 5 star, unless there is something obviously wrong. Once you've owned your product for a while, you get a better feel of the product's strengths and weaknesses, and as a result can give more informative reviews. I actually often look at the 3 star reviews to get the truer sense of the product for this reason. There should be a rule that you cannot post a review until you've owned the product for more than a certain amount of time. On the flip side, I use the 2 star reviews to see if there is a pattern of defects, though thinking about it more, similar to the 5 star reviews I may want to start taking those with a grain of salt also.

While I agree many reviews are fake, I think another sizeable percentage of the 5 star reviews are "honeymoon reviews", which will also give an incomplete picture.
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#10
Quote from longview583
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That escalated quickly.
Methinks the reviewer doth protest too much...

But seriously, this person flew off the handle assuming that the article is insulting every single person who has ever reviewed anything. The article is completely valid, what a childish response by them.
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#11
Judging by offers for "product-bribe for revising a mediocre review" - NO
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#12
I am a person who does reviews, I get products for free and some just cheap @ Amazon.ca from some companies. I have provided 3 star reviews. Part of the problem really is that we have little time to do the reviews. Most of the ratings are based on impressions of quality and usefulness of the item. I update if my opinion changes, however, I usually deal with the company and if there is a problem with a product, it will get replaced, which would be the same for the customer if they were to purchase it. Over time if the company gets bad reviews from the reviewers, they usually stop selling the product. I don't feel pressured to give a good review, however if I'm not impressed with the product I will speak with the company. My credibility is important to me, as I don't want people to purchase something and then be unhappy with it.
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#13
Quote from lisajh-canadagirl
:
I am a person who does reviews, I get products for free and some just cheap @ Amazon.ca from some companies. I have provided 3 star reviews. Part of the problem really is that we have little time to do the reviews. Most of the ratings are based on impressions of quality and usefulness of the item. I update if my opinion changes, however, I usually deal with the company and if there is a problem with a product, it will get replaced, which would be the same for the customer if they were to purchase it. Over time if the company gets bad reviews from the reviewers, they usually stop selling the product. I don't feel pressured to give a good review, however if I'm not impressed with the product I will speak with the company. My credibility is important to me, as I don't want people to purchase something and then be unhappy with it.
Someone who got an item for free generally won't use the same standard of judgement as someone who paid. It's plain and simple
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#14
I actually found this myself about a week ago when looking for a case for my S7. One of the cases I looked at had a 5 star rating with over 20 reviews. It was a brand I've never heard of so I was curious and started reading the reviews since it was rated so well with over 20 reviews. Upon reading the reviews, I found that almost all of the reviews were from people that either got it for a discount or for free for their "honest" review. I decided not to purchase the case based on my experience with reading reviews on Amazon that are verified to be purchased by the user. In my experience, even with highly rated products, you'll see low reviews here and there. With this case, all of the reviews that had been given via discount or free were all 5 stars. I figured there was no way all these "honest" reviews were completely true. That's just me, though.
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#15
I agree that a majority of the folks getting products for free or at a discount are giving out five star reviews to keep getting products from their benefactors. Of course, the logic of this article strongly suggests that the Amazon VINE reviews are suspect as well. As a long time PRIME member, I purchase thousands of dollars worth of merchandise from Amazon every year. I read the reviews rather than simply looking at how many stars a product has received. I have found that reviewers who provide detailed reviews and detailed video reviews in particular are much more reliable than those who simply write that a product is great, give it five stars, and then provide the free product disclaimer. This article clearly demonstrates that the consumer has to be critical about everything, even Fakespot, as demonstrated by its rating of the Amazon Fire. Thank you Marianne Hayes for an informative and well written piece.
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