You might still have some shopping to do for the holidays, but beware. Online retailers like Amazon, Sephora, and Walmart are full of fake five-star item reviews, generated by bots or paid influencers. Fakespot Inc., which identifies fraudulent reviews, just announced more than a third of online reviews on major shopping websites like Amazon aren’t reliable.
Amazon, Walmart and Sephora disagree with Fakespot, but are promising to make their reviews more reliable. Amazon said it’s spent more than $400 million to protect customers from review abuse and other fraud or misconduct in the past year, and prevented over 13 million attempts last year to leave inauthentic reviews on its website.
These efforts are likely the result of pressure from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has started to enforce review violations. An Amazon spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal more than 99% of reviews on its site in the past month were authentic. She also said Fakespot’s data isn’t legit, because it doesn’t have access to Amazon’s data to determine authenticity.
Still, not all of Amazon’s reviewers have clear motivations. The retailer has a program where reviews get free products in exchange for leaving reviews, and some vendors give free products to five-star raters. A lot of buyers rely on these reviews, though, since they’re not making purchases in person. And online sales are expected to increase by 14% in just the next month.
Social media is full of dissatisfied customers whose products arrived from online retailers that didn’t live up to rave reviews. Startups like Fakespot use algorithms and artificial intelligence to filter reviews, checking how often they’re written, whether they were posted by verified purchases, and looking for repetition of words that seem scripted.
But the biggest sign is too many stars. Most online products receive an extreme amount of positive ratings. ReviewMeta, which analyzes reviews on Amazon, told the Wall Street Journal it noticed a huge spike in unverified purchase reviews on Amazon in early 2019, and 98% of them were five-star ratings. Less than 1% were one-star reviews. If customers who feel the most strongly about a project are reviewing it, there should be a more equal number.
Whether they’re bots, paid influencers, or just customers looking to get a discount on their next purchase, online product reviews can’t always be trusted. Make sure to do your research, even checking across multiple sites, to ensure you’re getting a quality purchase — or maybe just do your holiday shopping in-store.