Last week, following an investigation by the Financial Times into the “suspicious behaviors” of seven of Amazon.co.uk’s top 10 reviewers, the company had to remove 20,000 fake reviews. According to the investigation, reviewers had been accepting compensation from businesses – mostly in the form of free products – in return for good reviews.
This is common. After all, reviews are one of the biggest factors in pleasing Amazon’s algorithm and getting to the top of the search results. According to The Verge, these Scam like these “typically start on social networks and messaging apps such as Telegram, where companies can meet potential reviewers.” The Times found a number of Amazon’s top reviewers had been connecting with businesses and forging fraudulent relationships through Facebook groups set up for that purpose.
While not a new problem, the amount of fake reviews cropping up spiked during lockdown. In May, 58% of products listed on Amazon.co.uk appeared to have fake reviews. Neena Bhati, head of campaigns at consumer group Which? told the Times: “You are more than twice as likely to choose an inferior product online versus the best product online if there are fake reviews on those inferior products,” which is not only time-consuming and a potential waste of money, it’s just plain annoying.
The investigation made me realize how reliant I am on reviews, which may well be fake and, ultimately, pointless. I’m not the only one either – apparently, £23bn of online shopping in the UK alone is influenced by reviews. So, to save us (yep, myself included) the hassle of scrawling through countless meaningless reviews and coming away with no idea whether what we’ve ordered will actually be, well, what we’ve ordered, I chatted to eCommerce growth expert, Luke Carthy about how to weed out the fake reviews from the real.
If it's too good to be true, it probably is
When you’re looking at a new product, or particularly one by a lesser-known brand or retailer, it’s probably best to take things with a pinch of salt. Carthy says, “Too many five-star reviews (especially if they’ve no context or worse, no text at all) is often a sure-fire hint that you may be looking at fake reviews.”
Often, fake reviews are bought by companies from fraudulent reviewers on sites like Gumtree, Craigslist, Fiverr, and other social media sites. They are also able to be automated by malicious tools that are able to bypass any AI attempting to detect them, says Carthy. If you were selling fake reviews, what are the chances you’d spend 10 minutes on one review with a detailed comment instead of one minute each on singular reviews with no or little text? I mean, I’m sure they’re not getting paid by the hour in this business.
Without being too sKeptical, then, it’s safe to assume that too many five-star reviews do not equate to a five-star product. But there are some more concrete ways you can check.
Be sure to check review dates if available
This tip is a little more concrete than the last – it depends much less on skepticism and even the most trusting of us can use this tip to worm out the fake reviews – it’s also a little more time-consuming. If there’s a lot of good reviews, all posted in a small time frame, is another almost guaranteed hint that they’re fake, says Carthy.
Like I mentioned above, most reviews are completed by AI or paid personnel who often have numerous accounts so they can leave a lot of separate reviews on the same listing. “This is why it’s important to check the dates of the reviews where possible,” Carthy tells PC Guide. “Fake reviews will often be posted in blocks whilst natural reviews will drip in organically.”
Check the listing or product on other websites and cross-reference
This is another slightly time-consuming but fairly simple step – and the one I think will provide the most concrete answer to whether or not a product’s reviews are fake. If a certain product or service is listed on more than one site – say, their own site, eBay and Amazon, for example – Carthy advises checking out all the reviews wherever you can. I mean, obviously, if a brand itself is one step ahead it might have looked after it’s reviews on every platform. Chances are though, they haven’t.
“Is the item for sale on Amazon with lots of gleaming reviews?” Carthy says. “[If so], check for the same item or listing on eBay, TripAdvisor or another source.
“If there’s hugely different reviews for the same item on different websites, be cautious.”
Don’t just check for false positives
Following the investigation by the Times, BBC’s Newsnightspoke to a number of Amazon retailers who had been harmed by fake negative reviews, presumably sent by competitors hoping to tarnish their reputation and push themselves to the top of Amazon’s search results.
One seller, Jason Smith, told Newsnight, “The sad thing is that you could have 50 positive reviews, like five-star reviews – but if you’ve got one or two one-star reviews, then it’s going to be very difficult to compete.”
They can be used to hurt And damage a legitimate business’ reputation or unnaturally and artificially inflate positive reviews too.
Carthy says that the implications of this is that it can have “huge consequences.” “Often, once fake reviews have been added and deployed, they can be very challenging to remove or challenge,” he tells PC Guide. He also notes that even negative reviews left by honest customers aren’t always a true reflection of the product itself as there are many factors that can lead to someone leaving one.
“Remember, frustrated and disgruntled customers will often be more than happy to leave a negative review, whilst happy customers can remain silent,” he says. “Some [negative reviews] can be from frustrated customers venting rather than a true reflection of the product or, say, location.”
Again he says, it’s important to cross-reference negative reviews as well as positive, as well as looking at the dates they were posted. “What’s important to remember is that reviews are only indicative and aren’t black and white. Review both the best and worst reviews for what you’re looking into and be sure to check reviews across multiple sources for a more neutral pool of feedback where possible.”
Next time you decide to go online shopping (which I’m sure will be soon considering we’re still mostly stuck indoors and Black Friday is on the horizon), and you’re feeling skeptical about believing reviews, give these tips a go. Hopefully, you won’t be disappointed.