Don’t trust that 5-star review or rating on Amazon to make up your mind about a product. There’s a good chance it’s a fake (i.e. a commissioned review by the seller). The only way to find a true opinion is to learn how to spot these fakes.
Amazon has faced this problem for some time now. The online retail giant has even filed a few lawsuits against companies that provide these fake review services. But it’s an uphill battle, and one that Amazon probably won’t win. There is an entire world of scammers trying to manipulate Amazon’s reviews and ratings. It’s almost impossible to stay a step ahead of them.
The onus then is on you, the buyer. You’re the one who needs to be able to spot and disregard biased write-ups. It’s easier said than done, but there are a few ways to get better at it.
The Big Tell-Tale Signs
There are a few tell-tale signs to indicate a fake review. Some people who wrote these fake reviews for a living have disclosed some secrets. And then there are researchers who found clues.
- Similar keywords in multiple reviews: Companies brief these fake-review-writers with a short product description and what they want to hear. This comes with some keywords or phrases that the manufacturer wants. If many reviews repeat such phrases, you know what to discount.
- Reviews that are too positive without being specific: Nothing is perfect, but some reviews talk up a product with big adjectives and action words. Don’t trust these.
- Lots of reviews in a short time frame: If an item has a large number of reviews in the space of a few days, that’s a deal-breaker.
As the fake-out game evolves, reviewers change strategies. For example, several of the signs to spot a fake are no longer used, like extreme emotions or personal anecdotes.
Use Fakespot or ReviewMeta
Two apps do a good job of flagging fake reviews. ReviewMeta is the older of the two, while Fakespot uses a few new techniques. But largely, both work well to get rid of the obvious fakes.
Both ReviewMeta and Fakespot also have browser extensions to reduce clicks. Choose whichever app seems better to you. Personally, I prefer ReviewMeta as the app to uncover what’s hiding on Amazon.
Ratings Are Usually Unreliable: Look for 3-Stars
In most cases, you can safely ignore a product’s rating altogether. Ratings are far too subjective and don’t mean anything. Most people can’t even agree on what “3/5 stars” means, so forget about them.
The site Best Reviews analyzed 360,000 user ratings over 488 products and found the above distribution. Over 66 percent of user ratings are ranked five stars. No one believes that there are so many 5-star consumer products on Amazon, right? Plus, a rating is the least-effort way for a company to inflate their numbers.
But there is one way these customer ratings can be useful. Go to the 3-star ratings and read the reviews there. Those will usually tell you both the pros and cons of the item, giving you a fairer picture.
It should go without saying, but make sure the item has enough reviews for it to matter. You can use the Amazon Sort extension to filter by number of reviews, so you aren’t wasting time on a product with very few reviews.
Download: Amazon Sort for Chrome (Free)
Stop Trusting “Verified Purchases” Blindly
When a customer buys an item and writes a review about it, Amazon adds a “Verified Purchase” tag to that. It seems more authentic, and it was one of the preferred ways to tell fakes from honest reviews. But not anymore…
Those companies that sell fake reviews in bulk have gotten smarter. The new deals include a commission from the manufacturer to actually buy the products so that the fake review gets a “Verified Purchase” tag. Which means you can’t blindly trust such reviews, you still need to analyze it.
In some ways, Amazon itself is to blame for this. It hasn’t helped this cause with initiatives like the Amazon Vine Reviewer program. To increase reviews, Amazon pays people to buy the product or offers extreme discounts.
As the Best Reviews study above also noted, such paid reviews overwhelmingly end up positive. This isn’t about dishonesty either. But when someone isn’t spending their own money, they are less likely to be more critical and expect the best value.
Quiz: Can You Spot the Fake Reviews?
With so much learning at hand, let’s see if you can spot the fake review from the real one. Researcher Bing Liu created a small quiz of three reviews. Which do you think are real and which are fake? Take Bing Liu’s Quiz.
How do you spot a fake review from a real one? Do you have any tricks or tips that might help distinguish them easily?