With Amazon Prime Day comes great excitement - and, of course, plenty of fantastic deals.
However, things are never quite so simple on the internet, where bad actors are always ready and waiting to leap at the opportunity for a quick buck.
Fake reviews, from falsified Apple App store reviews to dangerous extensions on the Google Chrome Store make it difficult as a consumer to identify the truth when making buying decisions.
That's not to say all customer reviews out there are fake - plenty of users take the time to legitimately express their thoughts, but when the time comes to finally splash your savings on a Prime Day deal, it’s important to consider that not all is always as it seems.
Amazon tackling fake reviews
Amazon is no stranger to review stuffing (where positive reviews are published as a favor, or in return for ill-gotten gains) and has been at the center of media attention on the matter.
These forged reviews take various forms; from small-scale operations involving falsified reviews from family and friends all the way to large operations with businesses dedicated to the sale of bulk fake Amazon reviews. Previously, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has even had to weigh in against fake review groups on social media sites.
Things were made even more confusing when Amazon introduced global ratings into the product review section, which pooled together reviews from around the world. In some countries, the product available has very different specs, and in some cases completely different.
Plus, with the removal of the comments section and the addition of one-tap reviews, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to verify the validity of customer feedback.
Amazon does regularly remove fraudulent reviews, and even ceased operation of its Chinese marketplace following difficulties in monitoring and growth. However, it’s fair to say it has a pretty mammoth task at hand, with a 2021 blog post from Amazon stating it has more than 300 million active customers and over 1.9 million selling partners worldwide.
According to the post, in 2020 Amazon stopped "more than 200 million suspected fake reviews before they were ever seen by a customer", and over 99% of reviews enforcement was driven by proactive detection.
An Amazon spokesperson highlighted to TechRadar the company's set of policies for both reviewers and selling partners, expressing a commitment to "suspend, ban and take legal action against those who violate these policies."
The spokesperson added to this, saying Amazon uses "powerful machine learning tools and skilled investigators to analyze over 10 million review submissions weekly, aiming to stop abusive reviews before they are ever published.
"In addition, we continue to monitor all existing reviews for signs of abuse and quickly take action if we find an issue. We also proactively work with social media sites to report bad actors who are cultivating abusive reviews outside our store."
How to identify fake reviews
While Amazon continues to work behind the scenes to minimize the impact of fake reviews, they seem to be here to stay in all corners of the internet. However, there’s plenty you can do to protect yourself.
There are some easy-to-spot red flags; overly promotional language, repeated reviews, reviews for an entirely different product, etc. Still, it can take a fair bit of legwork when you are trying to make a choice - especially a quick one on Prime Day.
We spoke with Saoud Khalifa, CEO and founder of FakeSpot, as well as Tommy Noonan, founder of ReviewMeta, to learn more about the issues around fake reviews.
While Noonan noted ReviewMeta's data hasn’t shown a change in the rate of fake reviews posted, Khalifa's FakeSpot tool noted an influx of fake reviews over the course of lockdown in 2020.
Where previously they made up an average of 25-30% of all global reviews, as of June/July 2020, this spiked to 40-45% according to FakeSpot's data - a number Khalifa had never seen before.
He says the issue comes from the volume of sellers using the site as a "valet service", claiming it is "impossible for Amazon to check if every product and review is legitimate or not."
As highlighted in Amazon's recent blog post, social media groups play a big role in the current fake review market.
Noonan says sellers in these groups will pay members to purchase and review products: “Reviewers are using their own money to buy the product, so the reviews still have the ’Verified Purchaser’ badge.
Additionally, Noonan says, many sellers are incentivizing reviews by giving promotions away with packages. "They will use tricks like pre-screening customer feedback before asking for a review, and even asking people to change their reviews to 5-stars before they get the free gift.
"This is against Amazon ToS, but I'm personally seeing a note like this in about 35% of my Amazon purchases."
Beyond the surface-level information a consumer can pick up from a quick glance at a listing, there's a lot of deeper information that can help to make an informed decision.
Noonan highlights unverified purchases, "easy grader" reviewers who give everything 5-stars, batches of reviews in close succession, as well as the kind of language used in reviews as authenticity indicators that ReviewMeta checks for.
Aside from the quality issues that may come with cheaply made products slipping through the net on Amazon, there are legitimate concerns around how fake reviews can also mask counterfeit items.
Khalifa highlights how there are counterfeits of everything from Apple products to gaming equipment and components from brands like Nvidia and AMD available on the site, purchasable in bulk from sites like Alibaba and Aliexpress.
Using components as an example, he says: "A lot of people question us when we give F-Grades to listings like these. It's because the listings are known to have counterfeits on sale and use fake reviews to hide it.
“You read the reviews, buy the product, and don't expect it to be a counterfeit, but it’s an insidious problem that won't show up until the component overheats.”
Thankfully, tools like ReviewMeta and FakeSpot provide customers with a way to more quickly and effectively shop safely on Amazon this Prime Day.
ReviewMeta allows users to copy and paste any Amazon product URL into ReviewMeta.com to receive a complete analysis of the reviews.
Noonan says: "We leverage algorithms and data science to examine hundreds of millions of reviews and help identify suspicious patterns in the reviews."
FakeSpot also has a site with a similar function, as well as a browser add-on for Chrome or Firefox and an app that augments the buyer's journey as they shop online with a set of features.
The first is FakeSpot's review ratings, which uses an A-F grading system to score the reliability and trustworthiness of reviews. Next is FakeSpot Guard, a tool that highlights sellers known to trade counterfeit products, which was added in 2020 after the team identified a rise in counterfeit issues. Lastly is the highlights feature, which delivers the most crucial top-line review information for users.
Amazon Prime Day is an exciting time to get a great deal - so make sure it's actually a good deal you’re getting.
Whether it's by remaining skeptical and investigating reviews yourself or using tools to do the legwork for you, it’s more important than ever to protect yourself online against deceptive promotional tactics.
If you see a review that you think might be fake, it's important to report this to Amazon by clicking the 'Report Abuse' link that appears underneath the review.
Outside of Amazon, you can always read reviews on sites like ours, and keep up to date with what we’re saying are the best deals on Amazon Prime Day.