Amazon Takes Action Against Sellers With Fake Online Reviews

Amazon has removed over a dozen Chinese merchants from its website, including Mpow and Aukey. The company has not made an official statement but it seems these merchants have been kicked off the platform for manipulating customer reviews. The merchants that were removed from the platform are huge brands that sell a lot of products on the site. It is uncharacteristic for Amazon to completely remove sellers of this size.

The Problem of Fake Reviews on Amazon 

In 2016 Amazon banned incentivized reviews in an attempt to protect the integrity of customer reviews. However, paid reviews have continued to be a problem on the website. Recently, cybersecurity experts SafetyDetectives discovered evidence of an organized operation for fake reviews on Amazon run out of china targeting their European and US websites. Over 200,000 people are involved in the operation that generated approximately 13 million positive reviews. Reportedly the FTC has also been pressurizing Amazon to take action against sellers posting fake reviews on their platform. The timings of these incidents that Amazon took action, not in the interest of protecting customers but as damage control to protect their public image.

See also: What is cyber vetting? Is it legal? Is it ethical?

What happens now?

In a statement to PC Mag, Amazon said that they have, "clear policies for both reviewers and selling partners that prohibit abuse of our community features, and we suspend, ban, and take legal action against those who violate these policies. Our objective is to ensure customers see authentic and relevant reviews so they can make better-informed purchasing decisions. To do this, we use powerful machine learning tools and skilled investigators to analyze over 10MM review submissions weekly, aiming to stop abusive reviews before they are ever published." 

Most users of the website will not notice the absence of the merchants that Amazon has removed. The company directs people to use the 'Report Review' feature for reviews they suspect are fake. Whatever the motivation for their action might be, it seems Amazon has taken a stand against fake reviews, it remains to be seen however if this leads to a net positive impact on the platform.

Why customer reviews are important for businesses

The importance of online reviews cannot be overstated. A survey of over 2000 US consumers by Podium found that 93% of respondents were influenced by online reviews in their purchasing decisions[1]. People want to hear from real consumers and understand their experiences. Mentioned below are factors that highlight the importance of reviews for businesses:

Online reviews are social proof

Customers are more likely to make a purchase if people around them think it's a good idea. In brick and mortar stores we can see the impact of having qualified sales personnel on the floor. Sales executives are able to connect with customers on a human level and can nudge them towards making a purchase. This need for us to have our purchase decision still exists when we are shopping online. This is why customer reviews are important. They fill the need for online shoppers to have social proof that a product is a good choice. Often these reviews will echo the thoughts customers are having, 'its a little expensive but..' or 'I wasn't sure how much I would use it but...'.   This helps allay the concerns an online buyer may be feeling and they are more likely to make a purchase.

Ratings and reviews build trust

Customers pay attention to the number of starts a brand has online. They are generally suspicious of brands with less than four stars. A steady stream of positive reviews can help your business build trust with audiences. Interestingly, having too many starts can be a bad thing. There is a common saying that you can't satisfy everyone. Online shoppers seem to believe this and expect at least some people to have negative or less than perfect experiences with a brand. They are suspicious of brands that have five stars as this can come across as manipulated, and fake. 

Reviews impact revenues

If you are still wondering why customer reviews are important, this should cinch the discussion, reviews impact a business's bottom line. Customers will spend 31% more on a business if it has excellent reviews. 72% of customers will trust a local business more if it has positive reviews. A negative review can cost a business approximately 30 customers [2]. What people say about a business online matters, it impacts the business's perception, image, trustworthiness, and ultimately, whether or not people will buy from them, which impacts the bottom line.

What's happening at Amazon is not unique to the company. For as long as online reviews have existed, people have tried to manipulate and game the system. The biggest downside of online reviews is that it is very hard to authenticate them. Both negative or positive reviews may be motivated by reasons that have nothing to do with the product itself. The way most marketplaces and review websites are currently set up, it is still very easy for sellers to manipulate their ratings and reviews in order to get better visibility. This raises the question, if they can be manipulated so easily should why reviews continue to be important for a business?

How should businesses manage online reviews?

It will take a long time for purchasing behavior online to change. Customers today rely on online reviews to judge the quality of a product and how trustworthy a brand is. We may question why are reviews important for a business but that does not change the fact that currently, they have a huge impact on online shopping behavior. Below are things that businesses need to do, in order to effectively manage their online reviews.

Ask for feedback

In order to build an authentic positive persona for your business, you will need to be proactive. Ask your loyal customers to give you feedback. Make it easy for them to do so. Send them a link to your Yelp page, Google Business List, or Facebook page and ask them to leave their honest opinion. If you host a special event or make a sale, just mention you would appreciate an online review. Most people you ask will not actually take the time to give you a review but if you ask enough people, and are consistent, enough people will do it and help you gain a good online reputation.

Thank positive reviewers

You should let customers know that you appreciate their compliments. If possible send them a personal message thanking them for their review. If a private message is not possible, only then thank them in a public forum. For platforms like Twitter and Facebook, you will not have a choice but to thank reviewers publicly. Do not hound customers and ask them to join your mailing list. Keep it simple, introduce yourself, thank them and move on. Absolutely do not offer positive reviewers any benefits like discounts, or gift vouchers, this can be interpreted as an incentive for the positive review, Most websites have rules against such behavior and can penalize you for it. It will be devastating for your brand's credibility if people start to believe that you are paying for reviews or that your online reviews are fake.

Address negative reviews

Do not ignore negative reviews. Ensure you reply to them in a timely manner. If your business has made any mistakes acknowledge them and apologize to the customer for their poor experience. If possible, mention what action you are taking to prevent such a situation in the future. If there is any misinformation in the review, correct it. Take the discussion offline if possible. If restitution is necessary, offer it to the customer. Online users expect a certain number of negative reviews for every business. In fact, they are suspicious of businesses that have nothing but glowing reviews. As long as the number of positive online reviews exceeds the negative reviews for your business, you will be in good shape.

An authentic voice for your business

Choose one person within your organization to handle reviews. This person should have a certain degree of authority and the ability to make decisions as required. Should a customer get a refund, do you offer a discount, does any action need to be taken within the business? These are decisions this person should be able to make. The other reason you want one person addressing reviews is so that your business has an authentic voice. Having the same person reply to all reviews will help create a consistent brand identity for your business. It's important for your responses to sound human. Allow the person responding to reviews to write in their own conversational tone. They do not have to be formal and use corporate language. Encourage them to speak as they would to their friends.

The landscape for reviews is due for an overhaul. As more users become aware of the issue with fake reviews and demand more transparency from platforms, the way businesses handle reviews might evolve. As it stands right now, by being strategic, consistent, and human, businesses can create a positive online persona that will lead to increased sales. Subscribe to whitepapers.online for regular updates from the world of technology.

Featured image: Music photo created by rawpixel.com - www.freepik.com

Sources

1. Jan 2017, "Online Reviews Stats & Insights", Podium [available online] available from: https://www.podium.com/resources/podium-state-of-online-reviews/ [accessed Jun 2021] 

2. Apr 2021, "", Invespcro.com [available online] available from: https://www.invespcro.com/blog/the-importance-of-online-customer-reviews-infographic/ [accessed Jun 2021]