Just about everyone looks for online reviews before making a purchase these days, and a recent Nielsen study revealed that 66% of people actually trust online product reviews above all other sources and 84% trust them as much as a personal recommendation from a friend.
That’s why Amazon came under fire earlier this year when it was revealed that a large number of reviews on their site were either outright fake or at least heavily influenced by a free or discounted product.
As the holiday shopping season swings into high gear, Amazon is taking steps to fight these fraudulent reviews. Earlier this year, Amazon actually brought legal action against over 1,000 sellers soliciting fake reviews. This week, they introduces new rules that govern “incentivized” reviews and actually started restricting how many “non-verified” reviews a user can leave.
Under Amazon’s new rules, users can leave only five reviews per week on products that they did not purchase on the site (previously, this was unlimited). Any user can still review any product, regardless of whether they purchased it on Amazon or not, but users can’t review products en masse now. This also makes it much more difficult for sellers to purchase reviews from third parties.
In the past, Amazon has allowed their sellers to offer discounted or even completely free products as long as the receiving user left a review, and clearly stated they had received the product at a discount.
A review by ReviewMeta earlier this year discovered that these although these reviews weren’t supposed to be influenced, they actually were, earning about a half star rating higher than non-compensated reviews. While that sounds small, it could easily be the difference in a product reaching the top of their category.
As a result of their findings, Amazon has now said they’ll remove compensated reviews if they appear to be “excessive.” Over half a million reviews have been removed from Amazon in the last few months, with more than 70% being incentivized.
Amazon’s goal in all of this was to ensure that their users can trust the reviews they find on the site. By taking away fake reviews, they makes sure that things stay fair to all sellers. This makes a seller’s job a little more difficult, but it’s a good thing for a seller who has a genuinely good product.
But fake reviews don’t just pose a risk to unknowing consumers, they can also hurt honest merchants who aren’t buying reviews. Fraudulent reviews can propel products to the top, giving them greater visibility and sales than competing products.
In a Reddit post that went viral, one independent author whose book sales were slagging due to a competing author allegedly using fake reviews detailed the problems this behavior creates for those doing business honestly.
For Amazon sellers, the quick route to higher visibility and top ratings via incentivized or purchased reviews is no longer feasible. As a result, new products could take longer to become popular and climb through the Amazon best seller lists. It may also be harder to build sales momentum.
There’s no more “fast track” to high visibility for Amazon sellers, which means that someone with a new product may have a hard time climbing the ladder and build momentum. But ultimately, this means that Amazon as a whole is a little more trustworthy.