Everyone’s go-to online retailer this week announced renewed plans to crack down on fake reviewers. Amazon says it’s targeted over 1,000 of them since the beginning of 2015, but the problem’s clearly going to require lots of time and effort to fix.
We browsed the smartphone cases section of the site yesterday afternoon, and every single product we clicked on -- the first three are here, here and here -- has a multitude of five-star user reviews that feature a variation on the following disclaimer:
Disclaimer: I have received this product at a discounted purchase price or, in some instances, free from charge from the seller. This was on the condition that I test the product and leave comments on my opinion of the product and write an honest, impartial and fair review. I try my best to weigh up the pros and cons of each product to give potential customers a balanced view from the perspective of a buyer. As per the terms of my agreement with the seller, I reviewed the item within a few days of delivery. For this reason, I may not be able to provide any advice in terms of long time use of the product.
Look familiar (click to enlargen)? Sadly, for many of you the answer will be a resounding yes.
Amazon’s fighting a seriously tough battle. Getting your hands on goodies at heavily discounted prices in return for a quick review is a dream situation for most consumers, who can’t really be blamed for getting involved. If you perform a quick Google search for fake reviews sites, you’ll find loads that haven’t yet been hit by Amazon.
It’s really easy to sign up too. One such site we came across, HonestFew, requires little more than your email address, shipping address and Amazon reviewer name. Here’s how the site sells itself:
We don't ask you for any payment for our services. It's on us. Just do what you do best: get awesome products, enjoy using them, and give an honest and unbiased review. Insider discounts on the latest product releases, straight to your inbox. Just pick the deals you like, receive a coupon code, receive the product, and review. Because companies are looking for insightful early adopters, discounts can be free or exceed 90% off. You’ll become recognized and respected for your opinions. With every Amazon review you create, your influence and reputation grows.
Sounds great doesn’t it? Well, unless you’re Amazon, of course. The company desperately needs to protect the integrity of its reviews system, as that's what helps the company bring in so many customers and so much money. What’s more, HonestFew repeatedly stresses that user reviews need to be unbiased -- it’s not their fault that they're almost always heavily biased.
We got in touch with Amazon, asking how they plan to crack down on this plague, and the company replied with the following statement:
While I cannot comment on active litigation, I can share that since the beginning of 2015, we have brought lawsuits against over 1000 defendants for reviews abuse. Through these efforts we have obtained data allowing us to take enforcement action against parties not directly involved in the lawsuits, including banning sellers and reviewers.
To help eliminate the incentives to engage in reviews abuse, we will continue to pursue legal action against the root cause of reviews abuse – the sellers and manufacturers who create the demand for fraudulent reviews – as well as the ecosystem of individuals and organizations who supply fraudulent reviews in exchange for compensation.
While this is our focus, it is important for customers to know that fake and misleading reviews remain a very small fraction of the overall number of reviews; in fact, we remove these reviews as soon as they are identified and we introduced a review ranking system so that the most recent, helpful reviews appear first. The vast majority of reviews on Amazon are authentic, helping millions of customers make informed buying decisions every day.
There's a lot more work to be done.