Culled from: Which?
Tech products from ‘unknown’ brands for sale on Amazon are littered with potentially fake reviews, an investigation by Which? has found.
Of the hundreds of products analysed, many have a raft of five star customer ratings and thousands of glowing reviews, and many of these are from unverified purchasers – all telltale signs of ‘fake’ reviews. We found:
- ‘Unknown’ brands dominating search results for popular tech
- Tens of thousands of positive, unverified reviews
- Hundreds of five-star, unverified reviews arriving on a product in a single day.
- Products loaded with positive reviews for different items.
97% of shoppers rely on online customer reviews to help make a purchase, according to a survey we conducted in September 2018 of more than 2,000 adults. The CMA estimates that £23 billion a year of UK consumer spending is potentially influenced by online reviews.
This makes fake reviews a serious problem – at best they could mislead you into buying a product that’s not as good as it appeared, at worse you could end up with something that’s not even fit for purpose.
Thousands of ‘fake’ and unverified reviews found on Amazon
We searched Amazon for 14 different technology products, including cameras, wearables, headphones and smartwatches, and found that some appear to be far more heavily targeted by potentially fake reviews and ‘unknown’ brands – companies our tech experts had never heard of.
Headphones were by far the worst offender. We analysed the first page of Amazon results in a search for ‘headphones’, sorted by average customer review to find the highest rated products, and discovered: 100% of the products were unknown brands our tech experts have never heard of; 71% of the products on the first page had a perfect five – star customer review score; 87% of review across products were unverified – not confirmed as an Amazon purchase; 5,425 customer reviews were found just on the top five products on the page.
It took just a couple of hours to uncover more than 10,000 reviews from unverified purchasers on just 24 pairs of headphones – an easy-to-find red flag that highlights the scale of Amazon’s problem with fake reviews.
Within these products, we saw numerous instances where hundreds of five-star, unverified reviews arrived on a product listing on the same day, or in a short space of time. This sort of activity often involved duplication or repetition of reviews. We even found instances of positive reviews for entirely different products appearing on a listing.
A set of headphones by unknown brand Celebrat had 439 reviews. All were five-star, all unverified, and all arrived on the same day.
All of this could mislead shoppers into believing a product is better than it actually is.
When we shared our findings with review experts, ReviewMeta, it believed every five star unverified review of the top 10 pairs of headphones when sorted by average customer review was fake.
Of these reviews, ReviewMeta said it doesn’t often use the word fake but their opinion is that pretty much every five star unverified review on those products is fake. A spokesperson said ‘I’m shocked we’ve been seeing this so much on Amazon – seems so obvious and easy to prevent…’
We also uncovered a high number of compact cameras, dash cams, fitness trackers and smartwatches from unknown brands, with perfect five-star ratings and a number of unverified reviews – many of which showed the same suspicious activity.
A lot of the same brands also appeared in the first page when sorted by ‘featured products’ too, meaning that unless you have a particular brand or device in mind you’re likely to be confronted by many of these ‘unknown’ brands – and the number of positive customer reviews could well be deceiving.
Online customer reviews are of such a concern that the British Standards Institute (BSI) has created a voluntary standard that it wants businesses to adopt to ensure that people aren’t misled. This lays out how businesses should moderate and display reviews, how they should deal with fake reviews, and what information they should provide to consumers. Guidelines include:
- Verifying that reviews come from genuine consumers.
- Ensuring reviews reflect the balance of comments received.
- Giving regular users and moderators the option to ‘flag’ inappropriate content or fake reviews.
- A recommendation that review administrators keep a record of all illicit reviews, and documents attached to the reviews, for at least one year from the removal date.
We contacted Amazon to find out what it’s doing to combat unverified fake reviews. It told us:
Amazon invests significant resources to protect the integrity of reviews in our store because we know customers value the insights and experiences shared by fellow shoppers. Even one inauthentic review is one too many. We have clear participation guidelines for both reviewers and selling partners and we suspend, ban, and take legal action on those who violate our policies.
We believe that unverified reviews and unknown brands are specific areas of concern, and often easy to identify red flags – but what’s the problem, and should you trust a lesser known brand?
Reviews marked as ‘verified’ are those that Amazon can confirm were purchased at its website. Therefore, unverified reviews are far easier to ‘fake’ – in that they could be written by someone who has had no experience at all with the product, although Which? did not attempt to ascertain the source of the reviews.
There’s no guarantee that a verified review is genuine – our previous investigation into fake reviews showed how sellers can gather verified reviews through incentivised purchases – but it’s still fair to say that unverified reviews should be treated with more caution.
Look out for more information on ‘How to identify fake reviews’.