Amazon's fake comments crackdown: Should others follow suit?

Peer reviews matter – especially in the world of online shopping.

In this big, dark space that the internet is, consumers often rely on the consolidated views of other shoppers to get that feeling of comfort and safety, before punching in their credit card numbers for a product they wish to buy.

According to Nielsen’s latest study on Global Trust in Advertising, while most credible advertising comes straight from the people we know and trust, it isn't confined only to those in our inner circle. In fact, two-thirds (66%) say they trust consumer opinions posted online—the third-most-trusted format.

Taking this very seriously is online marketplace Amazon. Most recently, the e-commerce giant filed for papers in the United States against more than 1,000 people, claiming that websites such as Fiverr are paying others to leave false reviews on certain products. This is in turn, leaves the Amazon brand with a tarnished reputation.

“Amazon is bringing this action to protect its customers from this misconduct, by stopping defendants and uprooting the ecosystem in which they participate,” read the lawsuit which was filed on last Friday.

In a conversation with Marketing, Brian Leong, MD Lowe Profero Shanghai lauded the move adding this could bring about an industry wide change. He added that since consumers are not able to control fake reviews, it is nice to see a platform like Amazon is taking a stand.

However Alex Gressano, GM at Lowe Profero Beijing, was a little more skeptical. He said being the first to advertise the bad practice and remove fake reviews will no doubt gain Amazon some free publicity, but there is no way to completely eliminate the problem.

In reality Amazon cannot be 100% (not even 50%) purified. There will always be cases of fake reviews.

Nonetheless, this highlights a problem that many e-retailers are facing – the rise of scam fake reviews. Unfortunately, every major service industry has had to confront the challenge of fraud. And as long as reviews are open, there is always a chance that what you’re reading is not likely to be real.

Steps e-retailers can take to guard themselves

One company actively fighting fake reviews for almost 15 years is TripAdvisor. According to a 2015 PhoCusWright study commissioned by TripAdvisor, 93% of TripAdvisor users said they find the hotel reviews they read to be accurate of the actual experience.

Janice Lee Fang, TripAdvisor’s communications director for APAC said TripAdvisor’s approach is twofold.

“We have sophisticated systems and teams in place to detect fraudsters, and we have strong penalties in place to deter them. Our team uses tools and techniques, including best practices from industries such as banking to catch fraud. Our community too, can report suspicious activity to us. Between our teams, our tools and our community, we are very effective at maintaining the integrity of the reviews on TripAdvisor,” Lee said.

She added that the years of experience in tracking reviews has also now led to the brand being able to spot what is normal reviewer behavior and what isn’t - which helps in catching fraud. Lee said:

Fraudsters inevitably leave behind patterns and traces that we can and do catch.

The company also red flags businesses attempting to boost their ranking on the site with fake reviews, which works as a warning for others. In the first half of this year our fraud and legal team shut down 29 optimisation firms. These firms specialise in writing fake reviews.

Wego chief product officer, Graham Hills said for Wego, it is supported with traveler reviews by big data and online reputation management partners, TrustYou which provides an aggregated summary of verified reviews from hundreds of sources.

Leong advises that some small steps e-retailers can take would be to put up stringent rules on posting reviews and using data to open reviews only to people who have bought that product. Meaning, if a consumer has not actually bought a certain product online from that specific e-retailer, he/she should not be allowed to put up a review or comment of that product and store.

Natasha Zhao, principal consultant of QED consulting said that the power behind reviews comes from an individual staking their personal reputation to make an assessment of a product. Hence linking review systems to Facebook Connect or identifying through a social platform could help retailers.

Consumers need to get smart

With so many fake reviews and companies selling fake likes for posts, consumers need to be smarter and sieve out unethical business practices. Customers need to assess the credibility and authenticity of the contributor by looking at some of these factors:

- The activity and rank of the account – is the account sporadically active? If so, this is likely to be a sign of fake commentators.

- The quality of other reviews made by the account – are the reviews consistent?

- Credibility is established when the majority of people can attest to something.

- If a product has a lot of reviews, all happening around the same time without complaints, it's probably fake.

- Longer reviews are likely to be more authentic then one liners.

(Photo courtesy: Shutterstock)