Amazon risks betraying customer trust
The Amazon’s Choice endorsement is being applied to potentially poor quality products that appear to have been artificially boosted by incentivised and fake reviews – putting millions of customers at risk of being misled, new research from Which? has revealed.
The consumer champion’s findings show that Amazon’s recommendation system is inherently flawed and easily gamed by unscrupulous sellers, despite evidence suggesting that many consumers trust the Amazon’s Choice badge as a mark of quality.
Which? analysed five popular product categories on Amazon.co.uk and found dozens of Amazon’s Choice-recommended products bearing what Which? experts consider to be the hallmarks of suspicious reviews.
The practices uncovered among the almost 200 Amazon’s Choice products Which? looked at included brazen examples of incentivisation – when sellers offer refunds or free products in return for positive reviews – or to remove negative ones.
Which? researchers also found evidence of product merging – where sellers merge dormant or unavailable products with new or existing product listings to transfer positive reviews from one to another – to artificially boost a listing and a prominence of brands unknown to Which?’s tech experts, many of which did not appear to even have a website.
Which? is concerned that some sellers are seeking to manipulate reviews to influence the Amazon’s Choice algorithm because they know it is valued and seen as a badge of quality by consumers.
New Which? research found four in ten (44%) Amazon customers, people who have been on the website in the last six months and have spotted an Amazon’s Choice logo, believe it means a product has been quality checked by Amazon, and a third (35%) believe it means it has been checked for safety.
It also found that when these people notice the Amazon’s Choice logo, nearly half (45%) are more likely to buy the product.
Which? asked Amazon if it actually checks and reviews the products that receive the badge and it did not answer. It has also refused to reveal further details of how the algorithm behind the recommendation works, beyond its current explanation, that it is influenced by customer reviews, price and whether the product is available to dispatch immediately.
Which? is calling for Amazon to be clearer with its customers that the Amazon’s Choice label is not a mark of quality, and crackdown on fake reviews which appear to be skewing the system.
The issue of fake reviews and flawed endorsements is not limited to Amazon and online reviews influence an estimated £23 billion of transactions each year in the UK alone, according to the Competition and Markets Authority.
Following its work examining fake review groups on Facebook and eBay, the CMA must now investigate how Amazon, and other review sites, are being infiltrated by fake reviews – manipulated by unscrupulous sellers – and how they are being used to mislead consumers.
Natalie Hitchins, Which? Head of Home Products and Services, said: “Amazon risks betraying the trust millions of customers place in the Amazon’s Choice badge by allowing its endorsement to be all too easily gamed.
“Amazon must ensure its customers aren’t being misled about the products it is recommending to them – or reconsider whether it should continue with the endorsement in its current form.
“This is yet further evidence that the CMA needs to investigate how fake reviews are being used to manipulate online shoppers. It must take the strongest possible action against sites that fail to tackle this problem.”