An investigation by the consumer magazine Which? has found that five-star reviews for best-selling items on Amazon Marketplace have been exchanged for rewards in attempts to get negative ones removed.
Terms such as “bribe” and “incentive” appeared in relation to dozens of popular products, as customers reported that sellers had approached them with a view to manipulating the rating they left for the product.
Which? analysed five of the nine Best Sellers product categories on Amazon – smartwatches, dash cams, Bluetooth speakers, in-ear headphones and surveillance video equipment. It reported that there was repeated evidence of incentivisation.
Many customers described how they were continuously chased by email leave positive reviews, while others said they were sent cards alongside their products requesting positive reviews in exchange for vouchers or free gifts.
One customer could “not believe the persistence” of one seller in trying to get his negative product review on Amazon changed.
Tim Winkle, 64, gave a two-star review to a Teaisiy USB webcam due to its poor quality. The third-party seller behind the product emailed him asking him to alter or delete his negative review in return for a £10 gift voucher.
After he refused, he then received a series of other offers by email over three months, reaching a peak of £50.
Which? found numerous examples of people writing negative reviews on Amazon to shine a light on unscrupulous behaviour from sellers.
It previously uncovered evidence of fake and suspicious review activity on eBay, Facebook and Google.
Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy at Which?, said: “Amazon must, as an absolute minimum, do more to enforce its own policies – especially when evidence of manipulation is hidden in plain sight in its Best Sellers lists.
“The CMA needs to urgently get to the bottom of the problem of misleading and fake reviews and be prepared to take strong action to ensure consumers can trust the reviews that influence billions of pounds of spending every year.”
Amazon ‘relentless in their efforts’
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced an investigation into major websites that host reviews in May 2020.
Amazon has an Anti-Manipulation policy for customer reviews stating that any attempts to manipulate reviews, including by directly or indirectly contributing false, misleading or inauthentic content, is “strictly prohibited”.
An Amazon spokesman said: “We are relentless in our efforts to protect the integrity of customer reviews. We remove fake reviews and take action against anyone involved in abuse. We have won dozens of injunctions against providers of fake reviews across Europe and we won’t shy away from taking legal action.
“However, Amazon and other online retailers cannot do this alone. Customers need to be able to trust the reviews they see online and the systematic manipulation of reviews needs consistent enforcement and global coordination with stronger enforcement powers given to regulators against bad actors.
“We continue to work to protect the authenticity of customer reviews. We advise customers who doubt the credibility of a review on a product to click the ‘report abuse’ link available below each review. We will then investigate and take necessary measures.”