The consumer association is concerned that unscrupulous sellers are cheating their way to the top of the Amazon rankings by bombarding customers with Amazon gift cards, refunds and free products in exchange for positive reviews of their products.
The research comes as Which? releases a new report outlining a blueprint for how online review platforms, including Amazon, Facebook, Google and Trustpilot, can do more to tackle fake and misleading reviews.
Which?’s nationally representative survey in July 2023 found 10 per cent of people in Great Britain who bought from Amazon in the previous 12 months had received a note or card in the packaging of an Amazon product offering them an incentive for leaving a five-star review. This suggests 4.5 million may potentially have been targeted in this way.
Eight per cent of those who had shopped on Amazon in the previous 12 months told Which? that they were asked by a seller, via email or other communication method, to leave a five-star review in exchange for an incentive.
Worryingly, four per cent were offered a reward for changing a negative review to a positive one.
Which? has been contacted by members of the public who have said that they actually changed their review after they were offered an incentive.
One person that got in touch had originally written a negative review of the product – a pair of pillow cases designed to keep a sleeper’s head cool – but a week or so later the company contacted them to say if the review was changed to a more positive one they would refund the £22 which was paid for the product. After leaving a positive review, they received questions from people on Amazon looking to buy the product – suggesting that people were placing trust in the review.
Another person told Which? they got £50 in Amazon vouchers plus a full refund for leaving a positive review – highlighting how much value there is to sellers in getting positive reviews.
Leaving a positive review in exchange for payment causes harm to other consumers. Previous Which? research found that positive fake reviews can make shoppers more than twice as likely to choose poor-quality products. Which? has also uncovered products on Amazon that people have bought because of the five-star ratings, that have turned out to be poor quality or even dangerous.
Which? has today released a report calling on platforms to properly assess the risk that their system design and business model poses in relation to fake and misleading reviews and take reasonable and proportionate measures to ensure the reviews they host are genuine – including robust pre and post-publication checks.
The government is currently consulting on how to tackle fake reviews. The consumer champion is calling on the government to ensure that there is legal certainty in the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill and that hosting reviews without taking reasonable and proportionate steps to ensure they are genuine is made a criminal offence, alongside adding offences on the buying and selling of reviews. This would help guarantee tough action is taken to crack down on the problem.
Says Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy:
“It’s clear that sellers on Amazon are bombarding customers with incentives in order to cheat the system and we have seen evidence that they are successfully evading Amazon’s defences.
“Amazon and other review-hosting websites need to step up and do more to banish fake reviews from their platforms by taking measures that ensure the reviews they host are genuine.
“The government must make hosting fake reviews a criminal offence in its Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill so that regulators can take strong action to crack down on the problem.”
A spokesperson from comparison site Choosewisely.co.uk adds:
“The findings from Which? about the presence of incentivised reviews on Amazon should be a major cause for concern for consumers and online marketplaces alike. This practice of manipulating reviews undermines the trust that consumers place in online product ratings, and it’s high time for decisive action to be taken to combat this deceptive behaviour.
“The impact of fake reviews goes beyond misleading consumers; it could have serious consequences. Shoppers may end up with poor-quality or even dangerous products, therefore it’s essential that online marketplaces take swift and robust measures to address this problem”.