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Amazon has become a sea of misleading reviews for products that deceive and lie to buyers. While a purchased review doesn't necessarily mean the product is faulty or flawed in any way, once the hoax is exposed, the brand's reputation will suffer. Companies pride themselves on expressing their values through brands, but fake customer reviews should not be in the seller's toolbox. But why do some retailers resort to it anyway?

Fake or purchased product reviews have become a quick way for sellers to gain credibility on Amazon. It may work at first, but dishonest sellers are bound to be exposed. Still, fake reviews are so commonplace on Amazon these days that some experts even recommend adding negative reviews to make a brand seem authentic.

Purchased product reviews

In this article, I would like to explain how product reviews on Amazon are faked, how to recognize fake reviews and why entrepreneurs should not publish fake reviews.

How brands falsify their product reviews

Amazon's Code of Conduct for Sellers presents a strong argument against fake reviews. Nevertheless, many brands on Amazon make the cardinal mistake of buying product reviews. Understandably, new brands have a hard time gaining a foothold on the Amazon marketplace. Product reviews build credibility, and every brand can benefit from them.

Shortcuts can get the retailer to their destination faster, but the cost can be high - possibly a complete ban from Amazon and reputational damage that cannot be repaired. Purchased reviews may offer the right optics, but if customers catch on to this scam, the reputation for dishonesty can irreparably hurt a brand.

Brands tend to falsify their product reviews in various ways. The following methods are used to obtain such reviews:

Purchased reviews from agencies

A simple Google search will quickly turn up paid product review agencies. Agencies offer reviews in various quantities, including bulk orders of 100 or more. Sellers contact one of these agencies, purchase such a service package and then receive product reviews that appear realistic over the next few days. A brand built by these means can now compete with products that have authentic reviews.

This unfair practice is discouraged by Amazon. Around 20,000 fake product reviews have already been deleted from their website.

Buy reviews

Agencies don't just sell reviews on Amazon, but anywhere a company or product is exposed to reviews.

Reviews in exchange for money via informal channels

Whatsapp groups and Facebook groups have become hotbeds for illegal e-commerce practices. Brands offer social media users the opportunity to make a quick buck by writing a review for a product they may never have used or known about before being contacted by the brand or agency. These offers are disguised as contests and sometimes even double as job offers.

Reviews about freelancer platforms

Platforms for freelancers, such as Fiverr and Upwork, are particularly suitable for purchased product reviews. People are looking for small jobs that can be done in a short time but still pay well - product reviews can provide these qualities. Especially freelancers with older accounts and several authentic purchases and reviews earn money with paid but credible reviews.

Adoption of evaluations of the predecessor product

This is a clever technique. Brands sometimes draw on the success of their top products and transfer the reviews to new products. Successful products are merged with new ones so that they have a common product ID and can benefit from the positive reviews written for the older product. The new product may have been launched in 2020, but the reviews refer to a product that was launched in 2017.

Obtain ratings through variations

Many variants of the product

Faking positive reviews in this way is a surefire way to confuse customers. The same product can have many meaningless variations, different shades of the same shade of blue or sizes from XXS to XXL. All these products belong to a single ASIN. Certain inventive brands publish the same review for each variation, which collectively makes the parent listing look much better.

How to recognize purchased product reviews

Purchased product reviews are like a cat-and-mouse game between seller and buyer. The seller tries to positively influence the potential customer's opinion so that they buy the product. However, the more retailers use these fake reviews, the more critically the customer views them.

In most cases, the customer understands that the reviews are fake because there are clear inconsistencies or the rating is overwhelmingly positive. But in all cases where the situation is less clear, the following tips will help.

Take a closer look at the accounts of users

A reviewer may not be who you think they are. Generic names like Müller or Meier could be a big red flag. Of course, there are real Müllers and Meiers out there in the world, we can't discredit them all, but if your suspicions are aroused, feel free to do a little detective work.

Real reviewers generally don't have much to hide and sometimes share personal information. Fake profiles, on the other hand, often look generic and show little personality. Real people usually also have social media profiles that can be used to find each other elsewhere.

Watch out for mediocre or poor ratings

5-star reviews look great on product listings, but a quick look might tell you more. If the product has a lot of reviews, and if all of them are 5-star reviews, at least some of those reviews might be fake. You can't please all of the people all of the time. Medium reviews are usually honest. Look at the middle reviews to get an insight into the true quality of the product.

Too many reviews in a short space of time

Pay attention to when the reviews were written. If they appear to have been written in a very short period of time, it is possible that these reviews were written during a campaign. One should not be wary of such products and should exercise due diligence before purchasing. In fact, Amazon may flag the product if many people write reviews in the same period. Most of these paid reviews would be unverified purchases.

The perfect product for everyone?

Fake reviews can fit seamlessly into a list of authentic reviews, but they can be debunked because of the way they are written. Genuine reviews tend to talk about the pros and cons of a product. Fake reviews generally have nothing bad to say about the product. Real people see both sides of the coin, scammers usually only see the side that pays them.

Watch out for grammatical inconsistencies

Cheaply produced web content is notorious for poor grammar. Not every poorly written review is fake, but when you combine poor grammar with a few of the signs mentioned above, you might recognize the work of a scammer.

Services that recognize fakes for you

Websites like Fakespot and ReviewMeta use algorithms to analyze the credibility of reviews. You can download them as extensions for Chrome or simply paste the URL into the website and wait for them to give a verdict.

These websites set up their own parameters and conditions when analyzing a page. While there is no industry standard for this process, these sites look for signals that match their definition of counterfeit. Ultimately, they provide the user with useful clues as to whether the seller of a product is trustworthy.

Why you shouldn't buy reviews as an entrepreneur

A shortcut is the most tempting way to outwit the competition. It helps you reach your goal as quickly as possible with little effort. However, a product with purchased reviews is like a boat with holes in it that makes it to the middle of the lake and then sinks.

Amazon has a strict set of rules when it comes to selling on its marketplace. A violation of these standards should be reason enough not to buy reviews on Amazon. However, there are a few more reasons against this practice.

Purchased reviews are not compatible with Amazon's Code of Conduct

Amazon does not take kindly to dishonesty, because the bad image of individual sellers can be transferred to Amazon's image. This means that a company risks being blacklisted by Amazon. Once you have been blacklisted, you can no longer offer products on Amazon's website. Everything a brand should stand for could therefore be lost.

They are grossly unethical

Gross misrepresentation is a cardinal sin in the business world and should not be associated with your business. It is unfair to the customer to inflate their product reviews and take advantage of undeserved reviews.

The credibility of your brand suffers

I cannot emphasize this enough: If you get caught, the result can be significant damage to your brand. Brands work hard to promote the values they convey by being transparent and responsive to customer feedback. If a brand decides to cut corners and publish fake reviews, they've already tarnished their credibility. It's not a question of if you'll find out, but when.

Tobias Dziuba

My name is Tobias and I am the founder and managing director of the Amazon agency Adsmasters GmbH based in Düsseldorf.

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