If your gut tells you that some of those 5-star reviews on Amazon are fake, a new study says you’re right.
ReviewMeta recently analyzed 203 million Amazon reviews and found 11.3% of them to be untrustworthy. While fake reviews have populated Amazon since its inception, the problem began growing in 2015, when the company started allowing Chinese sellers onto the site.
Fake Amazon reviews are still a problem
With a flood of new vendors swamping Amazon, competition to sell became fierce, spawning the fake review epidemic. Receiving 5-star reviews is important because in searches, those with the most 5-star reviews show up in the first few pages, essentially crowding out products and companies that received legitimate reviews.
In addition, the fake reviews have birthed their own economy in which people are paid or receive deep discounts in exchange for good reviews. The practice violates Federal Trade Commission regulations and in 2016 Amazon cracked down on the process but, that just pushed the fake-review economy underground.
Other ReviewMeta results on Amazon showed:
- A massive spike in unverified reviews (the product was not purchased through Amazon) in the last few months.
- Of the 1.8 million unverified reviews posted in March, 99.6% were 5-star. (In 2017-2018, ReviewMeta saw an average of 300 thousand unverified reviews per month, of which 75% were 5-star)
- The 5-star reviews were mostly posted for cheap, off-brand electronic products.
The website Which?, also investigated Amazon’s reviews of no-name tech products and overwhelmingly found that most of the 5-star reviews were from unverified purchasers.
Be wary of certain review styles
Here are some ideas to help you spot fake reviews:
Non-factual/Overly factual reviews
Facts are important in a review. Staying factual can protect you from a lawsuit. However, factual tips are also more useful for everyone.
If you see a string of reviews that are heavy on the adjectives (“Amazing!” “Fantastic!” “Life-changing!”) and light on facts, skip them. You’re looking for reviews that tell you what specific features the reviewer found that make it a good, or bad, product.
In fact, it often saves time to skip 5-star reviews and look at the 4-star and 1-star reviews to see what negatives people mention. Again, however, any negatives need to be backed up with facts. “It was terrible” tells you a lot less than, “It worked fine for 3 weeks and then the power button fell off.”
On the other end of the spectrum, you might find reviews that have too many facts with no conclusions. It might just be a list of product features with no information about how the product impacted the reviewer. That’s a sign the reviewer is just copying the features list and doesn’t actually own the product.
There will be times when researching a product you’ll notice a similarity in reviews across several websites. In one case recently discovered, nearly every review for a product was posted on the same day. That’s certainly a red flag, and the fact that none of the reviews were very factual was just the icing.
For another item, every positive review found online was the same exact review. The author’s name was even the same on every site. That’s not a coincidence, that’s just plain lazy on some marketer’s part.
Reading through a string of reviews on Amazon, you might notice a whole collection that use similar word groupings and writing style. That’s usually a warning sign as well. It means the reviewers are either copying the manufacturer’s information or the same person wrote them all.
Watch out for product reviews from new accounts or new websites. True, the person might have created the account just to buy that product, but some of the reviews should be from long-time members of the site.
You might find the person has reviewed hundreds of widely dissimilar products, which gives them a bit more credibility than someone who’s only reviewed a few items from the same manufacturer. It helps, too, if some of those reviews have factual criticisms.
The only thing worse than tons of suspicious reviews is, very few reviews. You’re left with no way to make comparisons. At that point, every review becomes suspicious, especially if they only appear in out-of-the-way blogs and websites.
For example, there might be a “too-good-to-be-true” tech product for sale that doesn’t have a review, or even a mention, on any reputable tech site. Or you might have to go to page 10 of Google’s search results to even find a review of the product you’re after.
In those cases, give it a miss. You’re better off buying a competitor that has more reviews, or just not buying that type of product entirely. This cool site also helps in weeding out fake reviews.