Amazon has removed over 20,000 reviews on its website after it emerged through a Financial Times investigation that they were actually paid for.
The FT investigation shows thousands of paid reviewers leaving 5-star ratings for products they never used, something that calls into question the integrity of their ratings system. Some of these paid reviews were also associated with little known Chinese brands.
The investigation also revealed a scheme on Facebook that offers people free products or money for reviews and ratings on Amazon. The e-commerce giant decided to remove these reviews just a few hours after the report went public. It’s also possible that Amazon is also looking at the possibility of removing more paid reviews in the near future.
Product reviews are very important in Amazon ranking algorithms. In essence, highly rated products tend to appear first in searches compared to poorly rated ones, and it’s not a surprise that many sellers would be willing to pay for positive reviews with the hope that this small investment leads to better sales. While any seller can offer money or free products for reviews, it seems like a majority of companies or sellers doing this are from China.
According to research done by the University of South California in conjunction with UCLA, there were over 2,500 Facebook groups and forums online designed to solicit for paid reviews. The study found that 80% of all these groups were actually Chinese.
The USC and UCLA research also noted that paid reviews did have a positive effect on product sales, noting that such fake ratings in fact led to a higher ranking on search results on a temporary basis. Researchers added that most of these fake reviews were also 5 stars.
There was never any attempt by top reviewers to hide their scheme. The FT investigation in fact noted that one of the top product reviewers in the UK reviewed products worth nearly $20,000 a month. He would review a product every four hours. Later, it emerged that all the products he gave a 5-star rating on Amazon were on sale on eBay under his account and address.
Amazon has also been cracking down on fake reviews and fraud on its platform. In 2019, the e-commerce giant invested up to $500 million for this but it seems the problem still persists.
The company says that it has sued a lot of “bad actors” for trying to abuse its rating system and would continue to do so in the future. The e-commerce giant has even brought in human investigators to help its software crackdown on fraud.
The FT investigation does show that there’s a long way to go. The fact that most of these paid reviews were associated with Chinese companies also poses major challenges since Amazon may not be able to pursue legal action against them in China. But nonetheless, such fraud significantly undermines the confidence people have on the platform and its products.