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  • When we're looking for a product on Amazon, most of us have got into the habit of checking the reviews beneath it.

  • This is what Saoud Khalifah was doing when he started to notice something strange about the products he was buying.

  • So I got interested in online reviews when I actually was finishing up my master's degree, and I ordered a few things off Amazon.

  • They were five-star rated.

  • There were hundreds of reviews, and they were all really, really positive.

  • I received the product, and there was something completely off with the products.

  • The quality was really low.

  • It did not last at all.

  • So I went back, read the reviews, and noticed there was a lot of red flags within the reviews themselves.

  • There was a huge trend of fraudulent activity within the reviews, and I could tell that they were fake.

  • Mr. Khalifah now runs a New York-based company called Fakespot, one of several new businesses which claim to be able to help you spot a fake review.

  • The very existence of such companies highlights a looming crisis of faith in online reviews, which are now at the very heart of how internet shopping works.

  • In the U.K. alone, they influence an estimated 23 billion pounds of transactions each year.

  • Most internet users are aware of the fact that they have to read reviews before doing a purchasing decision.

  • And without any reviews there most products won't get any sales.

  • That's basically it.

  • So most of these sellers know that reviews are a very critical part of their business.

  • Faced with these pressures, some companies are now encouraging customers to leave a positive review in return for a free item.

  • Others opt for more cynical tactics, targeting competitors with negative feedback.

  • In a statement, Amazon told us that "any attempt to manipulate customer reviews is strictly prohibited."

  • And that it suspends, bans, and takes legal action on those who violate its policies.

  • The U.S. firm added that it "invests significant resources to protect the integrity of reviews in our store."

  • This includes "teams of investigators and automated technologies to prevent and detect inauthentic reviews" at source.

  • The US company has filed lawsuits against more than 1,000 defendants for reviews abuse.

  • But Amazon is an enormous global platform for selling, and so any attempt to monitor wrongdoing comprehensively is going to be seriously difficult.

  • It is a cat-and-mouse game between the platforms, for example, Amazon and the sellers that are on those platforms.

  • So they constantly find new angles, new ways, to exploit their system and find new ways of detecting fake reviews.

  • So it is definitely a cat-and-mouse game.

  • When it comes to smaller sellers, reviews can be a matter of life or death.

  • Kevin Williams founded Brush Hero, a company that sells brushes used to clean cars.

  • Reviews have an incredible effect on revenues.

  • We went through a period in the last year where we had a number of negative reviews that weren't necessarily fair but appeared on our listings.

  • And it immediately had a 20 to 30 percent impact on the individual unit sales.

  • But worse than that, it affected the relevance of those products in the Amazon search engine.

  • For Utah-based Brush Hero, there is a tipping point for negativity.

  • Even a few critical fake reviews could encourage genuine customers to pile on.

  • Once the review level drops below, say, a 3.5 out of five, we've noticed a vast increase of negative reviews that start occurring because it's just easier to pile on.

  • What that leads to is not just a loss of sales on Amazon and a loss of velocity on Amazon.

  • It also impacts sales all over the place because consumers are relatively savvy.

  • They're looking for review scores when they're buying off Amazon or Amazon.

  • So it decreases the efficacy of our advertising through Facebook, through other social media channels, through Google, whatever it is.

  • There is also a sense that the source of the reviews is difficult to address.

  • Amazon can do a lot to improve its review system.

  • I don't believe that they're doing a great job in tracking where reviews are coming from.

  • It seems to me that Amazon should have the statistical ability to identify those... those bad reviewers and vet them out of the system, and they haven't yet.

  • So where do the bad actors come from?

  • For Mr. Williams, the problem has one obvious source.

  • The sense is that it's coming from China.

  • When Amazon started to solicit Chinese sellers directly, it seemed to open the floodgates to a mountain of bad actors.

  • Despite his experiences, Mr. Williams is himself a devoted user of the platform.

  • Absolutely, it's changed the way I look at reviews.

  • I'm highly analytical about it.

  • I am an avid Amazon shopper.

  • I have to admit that even though I've had lots of problems on Amazon, it's a major sales channel for me.

  • And as a consumer, I purchase things nearly every day on Amazon.

  • The tangled web of online reviews is a challenge for Amazon, the companies that sell on it, and those of us buying.

  • But it's also just one part of a bigger story, the difficulty we now have trusting anything we read online, even as we spend more of our time in front of computers.

When we're looking for a product on Amazon, most of us have got into the habit of checking the reviews beneath it.

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B1 US TOEIC FinancialTimes amazon review williams online

Amazon and the problem of fake reviews

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    Lian posted on 2020/03/15
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