Amazon’s customer review section is being inundated by “fake” five-star reviews from a number of “unknown” brands, according to a Which? investigation.
The consumer group analysed the listings of hundreds of popular tech products across 14 different categories including headphones, cameras, fitness trackers and smart watches.
It found that many of the top-rated items in each category were from little-known brands, while tens of thousands of positive reviews were written by unverified purchasers – meaning the person could not verify they had actually purchased the product from Amazon.
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In some cases, hundreds of five-star, unverified reviews were appearing on products in a single day.
The analysis also found evidence of duplicated reviews, as well as positive reviews for unrelated products such as soap dispensers, suggesting they may be automated.
According to Which?, headphones were by far the worst offender when it came to fake reviews. When all the products on the first page of results were sorted by average customer review, the majority were found to be from little-known brands.
This indicates that such brands, which you might expect to be less popular and may struggle to achieve a good ranking in Amazon search listings, may be using fake reviews to stand out to customers.
What’s more, 87 per cent of more than 12,000 reviews for these products were made by unverified purchasers, while 71 per cent of the headphones had perfect five-star ratings.
Which? also found similar results when searching for smartwatches, with unverified reviews making up 99 per cent of reviews for the top four products.
“Our research suggests that Amazon is losing the battle against fake reviews, with shoppers bombarded by comments aimed at artificially boosting products from unknown brands,” said Natalie Hitchins, the head of home products at Which?.
“Amazon must do more to purge its websites of unreliable and fake reviews if it is to maintain the trust of its millions of customers”.
To avoid being misled and possibly buying a dud product, Hitchiins suggests that customers always take reviews with a pinch of salt and look to independent and trustworthy sources when researching a purchase.
In response to the investigation’s findings, Amazon said that it invests in “significant resources to protect the integrity of reviews” and that is has clear participation guidelines for both reviewers and selling partners.
Speaking to The Independent, the online retailer also revealed the action it is taking to prevent and detect fake reviews on the website.
“We use a combination of teams of investigators and automated technology to prevent and detect inauthentic reviews at scale, and to take action against the bad actors behind the abuse.
“We estimate more than 90 per cent of inauthentic reviews are computer generated, and we use machine learning technology to analyse all incoming and existing reviews 24/7 and block or remove inauthentic reviews.
“Our team investigates suspect reviews, works with social media sites to stop inauthentic reviews at the source, pursues legal action to stop offenders from planning reviews abuse, and feeds new information into our automated systems so it continues to improve and become more effective in catching abuse.”
Amazon asks that customers report any requests they get to manipulate reviews to customer service.
According to a survey conducted by Which? in September 2018 of more than 2,000 adults, 97 per cent of shoppers rely on online customer reviews to help make a purchase.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) also estimates that £23 billion a year of UK consumer spending is potentially influenced by online reviews.
This makes potential fake reviews a serious problem for consumers, as they could mislead them into buying products that are not as good as they first appeared.
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