In Bezos’ galaxy of 1.8 million vendors, 600 million items and nearly 9.6 million new product reviews each month, it’s become second nature for buyers to follow the stars.
But as it turns out, the system has holes. UK consumer group Which? uncovered thousands of fake reviews across 14 popular categories, including headphones, fitness trackers and smart watches.
The top-rated items in these categories were dominated by unknown brands with thousands of unverified reviews. In the headphones category alone, seven out of 10 (71%) featured products had a suspiciously high number of five-star ratings, some of which were dumped within 24 hours of each other or were written for unrelated products like soap dispensers.
A Budding Issue
Amazon has been battling phony reviews for some time now. Four years ago, the retailer sued websites that sold fake four and five-star reviews for Amazon products. In 2018, it shut down hundreds of accounts linked to fake reviews. And for the first time ever, the FTC took a US-based Amazon seller to court last month for allegedly purchasing fake reviews to promote a product.
Today, five-star reviews are being likened to a new form of hypnosis, whereby buyers and sellers hinge their success on these highly coveted stars.
According to The Hustle, this issue stems from a rapid influx of sellers to Amazon—most notably the hundreds of thousands of new Chinese sellers courted in 2015 that spawned thousands of indistinguishable goods. More and more sellers began taking shortcuts to get their products to the top of Amazon search results.
Though federal law forbids the exchange of free products, services or payments for favorable reviews without disclosure (aka “incentivized reviews”), “the fake Amazon review economy is a thriving market, ripe with underground forums, ‘How To Game The Rankings!’ tutorials, and websites with names like (now-defunct) ‘amazonverifiedreviews.com,’” reports the Hustle. “But the favored hunting grounds for sellers on the prowl is Amazon’s fellow tech behemoth, Facebook.”
The Hustle identified more than 150 private Facebook groups where sellers peddle reviews from consumers eager to receive free products. Some reviewers even make consistent side money from commissions, evading suspicion by spacing out reviews and avoiding words like “love” that sound overly fake.
If You’re Thinking, “Should I Play the Game?”
Don’t. The potential consequences far outweigh the potential rewards.
For one, Amazon and Facebook both have reason to clamp down on (and issue severe penalties) to violators. Neither can afford a culture of distrust and Amazon is especially incentivized to prioritize the consumer over the seller or advertiser.
Secondly, it only takes one infraction for your whole business to go down. Amazon has been known to pull the plug on accounts, sometimes without notice or just cause. History shows that Amazon takes little chances when it comes to customer experience and will suspend or shut down your account if it suspects foul play, no matter your current seller performance or business size.
Third, buyers are savvy. In fact, 82% of consumers reportedly seek negative feedback and are skeptical of products that are “too good to be true.” While a five-star rating is not something to scoff at, you don’t need to fear the occasional four or three-star rating from an authentic reviewer. Keep in mind that if your buyer catches a fake review or feels duped by reviews after receiving the product, he/she is also three to four times more likely to leave a bad review and/or expose fraudulence.
While you may be looking for a quick-win strategy, you don’t want to build your business on shaky ground that can collapse in a moment’s notice.
Five Ways to Earn Five Stars—the Right Way
1. Deliver a great customer experience. Yes, it sounds cliché. But a good review starts with a seamless transaction in which the buyer lands on an accurate and well-optimized product listing, makes his purchase, then receives his order on time. You should have the right backend operations to support each step of this process, as well as a good return policy and team to handle any issues that arise. Don’t overlook the fact that negative experiences can be turned around with fast, quality support.
2. Say ‘thank you.’ Following up with your buyers, either with a product insert or personalized email can end the transaction on a warm note. Your buyers are more likely to go the extra mile and leave you a review if you go the extra mile for them, so think of creative ways to express your gratitude and delight buyers in ways they didn’t expect.
3. Simply ask for reviews. Inviting reviews without dangling any free products, money or favors in your buyers’ faces is fair game. Your buyers aren’t oblivious to how Amazon works and your brand ambassadors are likely to help you out, if you simply ask. You can make it very easy for people to review your products by sending them links or clear instructions on how to do so post-purchase or post-Support interaction. You can additionally see who has already left you positive seller feedback and follow up asking for specific product reviews.
4. Drive more traffic to your Amazon listings. The more buyers you have, the greater your chances of earning reviews. Some sellers will strategically send traffic to their Amazon listings as opposed to their web stores through email promotions. Others will set up special discounts of Amazon Giveaways to fuel sales.
5. Join Amazon’s Early Reviewer Program. When Amazon officially banned incentivized reviews from its platform in October 2016, it simultaneously launched its Early Reviewer Program. This program lets participating customers write reviews for enrolled products in return for small credits ($1-$3 Amazon.com gift card). To get your products enrolled, you must be registered with the Amazon Brand Registry and pay $60 per SKU that you want to enroll. Amazon will gather reviews for each SKU up to one year after enrollment or until five reviews are gathered.
The Big Takeaway
In the age of fake reviews, it’s especially important that you earn and protect your customer’s trust. Some sellers may be rigging the system and getting away with it now, but you can bet that Amazon will make big, public moves to mend this problem, especially as it’s being hurled back into the limelight. Don’t be caught in the crossfire when that happens and aim for organic reviews that’ll serve you better in the long run.