It’s no doubt that Amazon.com is the leader when it comes to online purchases and ecommerce transactions. Buyers around the world place an immense amount of trust in the brand and user-submitted reviews that appear below a product listing.
However, with millions of products, it’s impossible for Amazon to monitor every single review to ensure authenticity. This means some unscrupulous third-party sellers and other dishonest reviewers can slip through the cracks.
If you’re someone who places a huge emphasis on online reviews, or Amazon product reviews in particular, watch out for these common pitfalls.
The “I was provided this for free in exchange for my honest review…”
This is one of the most common phrases someone may have seen on Amazon several months ago. Companies would send out free products in exchange for a review placed on their Amazon listing. Although it was never explicitly stated, it was almost implied that the review would be positive. After all, it’s a huge incentive for the reviewer to place a positive review, as there is a greater likelihood of receiving more free products in the future.
Amazon removed nearly all of these reviews that had the phrase above, or some variation of it. That’s not to say this doesn’t happen anymore, because it still does. All a company has to do is reach out to a blogger or other third-party and the conversation is behind closed doors.
The only legitimate and trustworthy source of a ‘free product for review exchange’ is through Amazon’s Vine program. Through this program, Amazon hand picks its most trustworthy reviewers to receive products from companies to review. Each company pays a significant amount of money, usually in the thousands along with product costs, to get their product in the program.
Vine reviewers are required to a leave review, positive or negative, within 30 days of receiving the product. These reviews are typically seen at the top of all other reviews with a badge that reads, “VINE VOICE.” Amazon previously used green text that read, “Vine Customer Review of Free Product.” While I can’t verify whether or not the green text still exists, it’s worth mentioning in case some products still have it.
What to look for…
Pay attention to whether or not the purchase is verified. Is the review in-depth and specific or vague with a lot of missing details? Typically the longer and more detailed a review is, the likelier it is to be legitimate.
New Third-Party Sellers
Most third party sellers are trustworthy and legitimate. However, with certain products, there has been a significant increase in fraudulent sellers offering the listing at a significant discount. Often times these sellers look legitimate.
Imagine looking at a listing… The price is just slightly below what a reputable and trustworthy seller is offering, no red flags there. It’s shipping from somewhere within the United States and looks to only have a week or so’s worth of shipping time, again no red flags. The seller is new, so maybe they’re just trying to build some feedback? That’s what a lot of people end up thinking.
The problem is when someone does buy from one of these sellers; they never receive the product. On the rare occasion they do, it’s a counterfeit product. The “Watch Ya Mouth” board game is a perfect example of this. Phony Chinese third party sellers listed the product just below what the authentic manufacturer was listing it as and was winning the buy box.
As a result, they received the bulk of the orders and were shipping out fake products. The result? Well, see the reviews in the screenshot below.
At the least, some people did receive a product, although they were counterfeit. Most buyers won’t receive anything but a phony tracking number from the China Post.
What to look for…
Check out the reviews on the item to see if there is anything up with the product. Have other buyers been receiving a fake product? If everything checks out, do a little research on the seller.
For new sellers, you’ll see a “Just Launched” line of text under a seller’s name, indicating they’re new to the platform. Be wary here, especially if they’re listing the product slightly less than all other sellers and have a sketchy name. Odds are it is probably an illegitimate seller.
Secondly, see what other products are being listed by that seller. A lot of these scammers are lazy and simply put the same price for different products in different categories.
Why does this happen?
For one, it’s very difficult for Amazon to track. With millions of products and multiple sellers on each, it’s extremely difficult to determine fraudulent sellers from legitimate ones, especially if prices are relatively similar and they’re both new to the platform. For Amazon, it’s better to error on the side of letting some illegitimate sellers continue, rather than eliminating legitimate ones.
For these fraudulent sellers, the funds you pay are released to the seller as soon as he marks it as shipped and provides the tracking number. If a seller can rack up enough orders within a week or two before the account being flagged, he can take the money and run.
You’ll get a fake tracking number, then file a report with Amazon, and Amazon takes the cost and refunds you the money. The fraudulent seller makes off with the money, gets one account deleted, and then goes and starts another one the following week. Amazon can’t verify every tracking number since there is a legitimate delay with most postal services. Horrible cycle isn’t it?
Uneven Review Distribution
If a product has nothing but five star reviews, odds are something is up.
For new products with only a couple reviews, there might not be anything wrong with it. Simply a new product that’s well-made and seller doing his best to start off on the right foot.
On the other hand, if the product has been around for a while, has a lot more than a couple reviews and they’re all five stars, that should raise some red flags. Additionally, if a product has a large sum of five star and one star reviews, with very few two, three, or four star reviews, that should also raise some flags.
What typically happens is a seller may pay for phony reviews up front and try and suppress as many negative ones as possible. The seller hopes buyers are too lazy to leave reviews, or just deal with the quality and move on. The problem is when lots of orders begin rolling in because this will often lead to more reviews, which increases the odds of the inferior product being revealed.
What to look for…
What does the review distribution look like? Amazon provides a little bar graph of the review ratings and their distribution. If they’re all five stars, or mostly five and one star, be cautious. Look at the most recent reviews and whether or not those are verified.
If you ask me, Amazon hasn’t done the best in taking care of fake reviews. To combat this, there are a few different websites that buyers can use to see if the reviews seem legitimate or not. While these sites may not catch all fake reviews, it will help to give you an idea of their authenticity, without you having to do the research. Best of all? They’re free.
These sites look at factors like: if a review is a verified purchase, similarity to other reviews, quality of reviews given to other products by a reviewer, and more. Again, these sites are not an end-all-be-all for determining the legitimacy of reviews. There are still false positives that occur, so take the results with a grain of salt.
Misleading Content from Legitimate Reviewers
Unfortunately, this is also a common occurrence on Amazon. While Amazon is arguably one of the most efficient companies in the world right now, that doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes. Combine that with user-generated content and there’s bound to be misplaced information amongst other inconsistencies.
The problem here is the review ratings or number of stars, do not tell the whole story. For a large number of buyers, those stars and the comments made represent the buyer’s purchasing process from clicking the ‘buy’ button, to using the product several months later.
In a perfect world, those stars and the feedback left should only represent the quality of the product and its functionality. It should not consider shipping time, how the item was packed, placement of package by the carrier, customer service, or anything outside of the physical product itself. But we’re not in a perfect world.
Real people who have bought the product and used it may have been completely satisfied with how it worked, but not with the entire purchasing process. One part of the process may have failed to meet their expectations, say the delivery. That is not the product’s fault, but rather the carrier is responsible.
When you purchase a product on Amazon it may have been sold by any number of people. Let’s say for example, you purchase a pair of Adidas shoes. Adidas makes millions of pairs of this specific model and ships it to all kinds of retailers and distributors, some of which are on Amazon. Adidas, not trying to miss out on potential sales, also sells on Amazon.
On Amazon, there is only one listing of this shoe, but multiple sellers behind this single listing. All the reviews, questions, and sellers are listed on this particular model’s page. So when one person leaves a review, it benefits (or hurts) that specific product only. The feedback left on the listing will not benefit or hurt the carrier, Amazon, or any number of sellers behind the product.
What to look for…
A lot of buyers do not realize this, so do not base your decision solely on the star rating. Instead, skim over the reviews to see if there are any instances of people leaving feedback based on shipping, or something else that is not related to the product itself.
I Received the Wrong Product
Usually this isn’t intentional by the seller, but typically just a slight mishap and is common around products that are similar in nature, like laptops. Amazon’s warehouses are partially automated so that means there are robots constantly scanning labels to determine what is inside a box.
For sellers who ship their products to Amazon for Amazon to ship, they are required to affix a label with a barcode indicating what the item is. The seller prints the label and packages it up for Amazon. Amazon receives the package and the product is then moved to a shelf somewhere within a mile-long warehouse.
When you order that product, a robot searches for the barcode of the product you ordered and moves it to its next destination. From there it is packaged and sent to your front door. You open the package and find out you received the wrong item. What went wrong?
A seller probably mixed up labels somewhere or printed the wrong one. Label A needed to be put on Product 1, but instead it was put on Product 2.
A quick email to Amazon will almost always fix this quickly.
To summarize this entire article, one phrase comes to mind: “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” A little common sense goes a long way when shopping online. That’s not saying there aren’t great deals out there, but do your due diligence and shop smart.
Lastly, if you’re unfortunate enough to be the victim of a scam or counterfeit product, document everything. Save emails, receipts, take pictures, and write down anything else that may be important. Dealing with Amazon can be tricky sometimes and the more information you have the better.
Have any questions? Feel free to leave them in the comments below!
Also published on Medium.