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Consumer reviews are very valuable, both for the sites displaying them and the customers using them to help with their purchase decisions. 

However, the credibility of reviews has come under attack over the past couple of years, with lots of examples  there are plenty of examples of brands that have been caught out. 

As it stands, online customers tend to trust reviews more than most sources, except recommendations from family and friends, but that could change. 

Reevoo has just published a plea to Amazon, asking for the online retail giant to ditch all but its verified reviews.

So, should Amazon heed this plea? 

The ease of faking reviews

Amazon was an innovator with its use of reviews, as well as they way in which it used them on its product page for maximum impact

However, since anyone can leave a review, the credibility of the whole lot may be in danger.

Since Amazon is such a massive ecommerce player, there is a real incentive for unscrupulous brands and marketers to try to game the system by leaving fake positive reviews on their own products, or by dissing those of competitors. 

In fact, there's a massive industry built up around fake reviews, especially targeting Amazon. (Here's how to spot a fake review).

On Freelancer.com, there are 200+ ads for people to produce fake reviews for the site: 

You can sympathise with the challenge that Amazon has in combatting such mass targeting of its site for placement of fake reviews, in fact it's hard to see how it could be stopped effectively. 

Then there are reviews which just aren't any use for customers, such as those due to the 'fanboy effect', where Xbox and Playstation fans use Amazon's reviews to argue over who has the best console, or political books, where entrenched views means reviews are highly polarised: 

The case for dropping unverified reviews

Reevoo highlights the example of a product page for a trampoline, of which 90 out of 162 reviews are unverified. 

 

These 90 reviews may be from people who have purchased the same trampoline elsewhere, or they could be someone with a particular axe to grind, or they could be fake. 

Since we have no certainty that the reviewers have purchased or used the product, then they could seem less credible than the others.

Besides, if you have 72 verified reviews, I'm not sure of the purpose of the others. It could remove credibility from the page.

I think there is value in having a volume of consumer reviews so that customers can form an impression based on a wide range of opinion, but I'd say 40+ is more than enough.  

Amazon clearly values reviews, and it knows the value they add to the business in terms of greater conversion rates, so you can understand why it would be reluctant to change this model. 

I suspect, with the growth of the fake review 'industry', Amazon and others will eventually be forced to move to a verified-only model, and other sites will follow suit. 

After all, if it consistently emails buyers asking for reviews, then with its sales volumes it will easily gather a large amount of verified reviews. 

Otherwise, as Reevoo argues, consumer trust in reviews will fall, and the value of reviews in general will decline.

What do you think? Is there a potential trust issue with reviews? Should Amazon ditch all unverified feedback? 

Graham Charlton

Published 21 November, 2013 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

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Pete McAllister

Pete McAllister, Digital Marketing Executive at Intelligent Car Leasing

Unverified reviews are definitely an issue for Amazon. I've seen products that are not yet available (listed live for pre-orders) with many reviews talking about the quality of the product. The possibility of these reviews being "real" is nil with the products not being on the market yet!

over 2 years ago

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Alex Hantson

They should give different values to unverified reviews or customer reviews where customer reviews would have a higher importance and would have a bigger influence of the overall star rating of products.

over 2 years ago

Paul North

Paul North, Head of Content and Strategy at Mediarun

Amazon have a real problem here, I believe. Fake and biased reviews are rife and being done by tons of companies via dummy accounts and outsourced accounts as detailed above. It's becoming common knowldge among consumers now. It must be eroding trust in the system and therefore in Amazon itself.

On the other hand, they have an amazing opportunity to once again set the standard for the internet with a complex review system and even algorithm to weight user scores by authority, relevance etc. I'd say something like this is now overdue.

over 2 years ago

Edward Armitage

Edward Armitage, Ecommerce Director at Waterstones

You only need to look at Tripadvisor to see how much of a pressing concern this is for Amazon.
They didn't tackle the issue in time, and got slammed by the Advertising Standards Authority last year (see link)
http://www.asa.org.uk/Rulings/Adjudications/2012/2/TripAdvisor-LLC/SHP_ADJ_166867.aspx

over 2 years ago

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Matt Lovell, Group Head of Customer Insight & Analytics at Thomas Cook AirlinesEnterprise

Interesting article. Surely Amazon is just one example of this though as it is rare that companies look for much in the way of verification in terms of reviews.

An example that springs to mind is I recently went on holiday and noticed on return that someone who claimed they stayed at the same time as us had rated the hotel with just 1 star on Trip Advisor complaining about over crowding and the facilitates being out of action. Given the dates they said they stayed there were the same as us and yet the hotel was virtually empty and the facilitates they complained about (pool etc.) were functional every day of our holiday, I would suggest that the review was probably written by a rival hotel.

The problem is, short of asking for some form of confirmation that you have bought / experienced a product, it's increasingly difficult to get away from this (unless obviously you're Amazon and as has been mentioned above, have enough sales going through your site to be able to get verified data). As a result, while I would imagine Amazon to move this way at some stage, surely this problem only highlights the concerns people should have trusting reviews from anonymous strangers...

over 2 years ago

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James Young

I'd never actually noticed that there were so many unverified reviews but now it's been pointed out I think it's utterly insane that someone can write a review of a product that there's no confirmation they've actually bought!

over 2 years ago

Edward Armitage

Edward Armitage, Ecommerce Director at Waterstones

@James Unfortunately that's the still case with many retailers who are after a volume of UGC. They also disqualify negative reviews that don't meet their 'guidelines'.

over 2 years ago

Paul North

Paul North, Head of Content and Strategy at Mediarun

@Matt There are many ways a site can improve ratings and protect against manipulation. It's all about the average/meta score and involves weighting and authority being applied to user profiles.

I wrote an 8 point guide on how Amazon can do this earlier this year. I used books as the example and compared a variety of sites' review systems, but the principles apply to most areas. http://www.mediarunsearch.co.uk/blog/amazon-goodreads-and-ebook-retail-8-ways-amazon-can-improve-user-ratings/

Striving for the perfect system is arguably a quixotic endeavour but there are far better systems to the current one within easy reach.

over 2 years ago

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Nick

I have worked on a few product rating & review projects more recently a complete implementation for a large retailer. I don’t consider fake or fraudulent reviews an issue for Amazon for the fact they are a market place where many sellers offer the same product.
For this fact I would think the seller review system would more likley be an issue.
Quality can’t just be achieved by enforcing rules such as mandatory fields and minimum word counts but outside of integrating a full moderation process offered by some third parties such as revoo and Bazaarvoice offer, it’s at least a start.
The review process will always be exploited but fake reviews can still be mitigated by enforcing email/ social network authentication, valid customer accounts, stronger moderation processes and default sorting options.

over 2 years ago

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Matt Lovell, Group Head of Customer Insight & Analytics at Thomas Cook AirlinesEnterprise

@ Paul

Interesting article. I guess the difficulty becomes how you deal with the long tail of products where many products have only one or two reviews and similarly, most of the reviewers have potentially only one or two reviews. Also love the word quixotic - Definitely sums up a few people I know let alone their endeavours!

over 2 years ago

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SB

Eliminating reviews that do not have the Amazon Verified Purchase stamp won't help.

1) AVP labels can be manipulated. Two examples: (A) Self-published author puts e-book on free promotion. All his/her friends and relatives download it on the free day. They write reviews, which show AVP labels -- but the reviews are still fake. (B) Company provides discount coupon for consumer to purchase product at a 99% discount. Product was essentially provided free (especially if consumer is a member of Prime, so no need to pay shipping). Again, AVP label shows. (For what it's worth, items that I've ordered that were returned due to shipping mix-ups still show up on my purchases list. Presumably those items would also have AVP labels, if I reviewed them, even though I've never actually held them in my hands.)

2) Just because someone didn't purchase the product at Amazon doesn't mean the person didn't experience it. This is how the Amazon model differs from restaurant or hotel reviews. Books can be obtained from libraries, GoodReads giveaways, as advance copies from publishers, from Barnes & Noble, etc. Health and beauty products can be bought at drugstores. (Quite frankly, this is usually a better deal. Many such products are sold only by 3rd party sellers on Amazon at a ridiculous markup.) Items can be received as gifts. Foods can be eaten at a relative's house. And so forth.

3) Just because someone DID purchase the product at Amazon doesn't mean the person experienced it. Amazon regularly prompts customers to review products they haven't even received yet. Based on some of the reviews I've seen, plenty of people take them up on this offer.

over 2 years ago

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Cal

We've been experiencing this exact issue of false reviews on Amazon with a recently launched product. We've watched competitors come on who are threatened by the product and falsely post reviews, one of which was posted before the product was even available to them (it hadn't shipped that day). It's frustrating and when you look at it from the other side of the equation, in helping manufacturers identify product issues and concerns and/or benefits, you start to lose visibility to reality. Great article and timely for me!

over 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@SB 1. Sure, they can be manipulated, but surely they couldn't be gamed in such scale, and it wouldn't be so easy to hire someone on freelancer.com to pump out reviews in volume.

2. I agree, and there are lots a very valid and valuable reviews that fit into this category. It's a shame that fake reviews and underhand tactics could potentially devalue these.

3. True, there is no perfect answer to this problem but verified may be the least bad solution.

over 2 years ago

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AD Wright

As an indie writer in a sub genre, unverified reviews infuriate me. I'm working by butt off to get actual readers of 'I Live: a novel without heroes' to post of review while people with larger budgets can just outsource reviews and make their item seem amazing and popular.

It's nice to see the added verified symbol on reviews but most consumers don't take the time to consider the relevance between verified and unverified.

over 2 years ago

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