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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Amazon Still Has a Review Problem. A Solution That Could Actually Resolve It.

A visit to Amazon will take you to lots of products with oodles of reviews and the problem is that it's extremely likely most of these reviews are bogus. What percentage? Estimates vary widely, but my research says about 60% or so. Simply mentioning this fact, as I have for many years, makes me a target for those who make their living at this—whether they are merchants selling products or those who make a living by writing product reviews.

Sure, there are sites that purport to help you determine whether a product’s reviews are legit. Generally, these sites use automation and a series of algorithmic rules to try to spot fake reviews. Try is the operative word because such rules wrongly identify real reviews as fake quite frequently. Why? Because if you can write an automation rule to identify a fake review, the cheats have already worked around it and changed their tactics. What’s left then are real customers who get flagged for no reason. Just ask anyone who’s had their account removed for simply saying in their reviews something like: “Good. I liked it.” over and over.
Years ago, Amazon unveiled Verified Purchase as a way to determine whether a customer actually purchased a product before reviewing it. Amazon wants so very much for customers to believe this tag confirms that a review is genuine, so much so that a product review click now only shows verified reviews by default. Amazon also limits the number of unverified reviews a person can write on any given day.
The problem is the professional cheats were already ensuring review writers were buying products well before Amazon even unveiled Verified Purchase. And after that? Even the amateurs started making sure as many reviews as possible had Verified Purchase. Whether pro or amateur, those who do this know verified reviews sell more products than unverified reviews and they buy products just so they can review them.
It’s important to point out that reviews, whether real or fake, are written by real people and generally speaking real people can be robotic and repetitive just like cheats can. Real people can be creatures of habit too, meanwhile cheats can actively seek to work around detection by avoiding repetition or doing whatever else it takes.
After misidentifying so many real reviews as fake, causing substantial harm and alienating customers for so long, Amazon decided to take the fight directly to paid review writers, a key source of questionable reviews. Hence, the big announcements and legal actions in 2015 against several thousand paid reviewers who advertised at a site called Fiverr.
NOTE: Fiverr is a site where anyone can sell a service for $5 and up, and a service performed for a buyer is called a gig.
Before related gigs were pulled from the site, a simple search for “amazon reviews” would have displayed links that brought you to pages where you could see the gigs being offered for review writing and the sellers. There were thousands, some with hundreds of orders in the queue, as fake reviews were big business at Fiverr. Based on orders in queue, reviews from purported buyers, etc, it was easy to see that collectively these sellers were responsible for millions of paid reviews.
Clearly, the action was a big statement for Amazon. The problem is there are hundreds of millions of fake reviews, not just a few million. Most come from individuals, not professional review writers. These amateur fakes are written by regular people for a variety of reasons. They can be people a product seller knows personally, whether family, friends or simply a bunch of Facebook acquaintances. They can be other product sellers who are working together to help each other sell more. They can be complete strangers incentivized by gift cards or something else. Hate seems to work very well as a motivator.

NOTE: My opinion on paid reviews is here at readindies.blogspot.com. In a nutshell, who cares if a book has ONE paid review, whether a $5 one from Fiverr or a $575 one from Kirkus. Why is one not okay and the other okay? The real problem all along was and is this: paid reviews are being purchased by the TENS and HUNDREDS for ONE product; friends & fam reviews are being written by the TENS and HUNDREDS for ONE product too.
Head over to Facebook on any given day or any other site where sellers talk in forums and you’ll find groups of people using these tactics to get reviews of their products written. Why do they do this? Because reviews sell products. It’s that simple. Products with few or no reviews don’t sell, even though those products with few or no reviews likely represent the only honest ones you’ll ever find at Amazon or anywhere else online.
A simple solution that could actually resolve the review problem once and for all:
1.   Let all product sellers create rich product pages like Amazon has for its own products. The best products will then sell themselves.
2.   Separate the rich product page from the related reviews by moving related reviews to a separate page.
3.   Make the related reviews page accessible by clicking a “Customer Reviews” link at the top of the main product page. Otherwise, show only the star rating and the number of reviews/ratings on the product page.
Now gramma Sally and her knitting circle can write all the reviews they want of granddaughter Emma's epic folk operetta, the trolls who hate it can go nuts 1-starring it, and those who are actually shopping for a related product can use the rich product page to determine whether they want to do so without all the noise and drama.
In closing, did anyone see the movie Joy? Was I the only one aghast by the fact Joy's success was largely built on a relative calling in and giving a glowing product testimony on live television? In fact, if the movie version is true to life, Joy would have failed miserably otherwise and her entire empire would then never have happened. Something to think about should you want to chastise gramma Sally and her knitting circle friends.

Thanks for reading,
Robert Stanek