Spotting Fake Reviews on Amazon
Fake reviews are the bane of any Amazon seller’s existence. They move sales toward dishonest sellers peddling products of questionable quality and they lose customer faith in the marketplace. When customers are tricked by fake reviews, they’re less likely to shop on the marketplace, harming both honest sellers and the marketplace.
Once you learn people manipulate products on Amazon, it’s difficult to “unsee.” In this article, we’ll go over some of the methods sellers use to increase sales through fake reviews. Read more about how Amazon customers scam sellers and how Amazon sellers scam customers.
All fake reviews show up on the same date
Most reviews for products that have grown legitimately have reviews spread out across a period of time. Products that have fake reviews usually have all 5-star reviews usually within a day or two. These are extremely easy to spot since Amazon publishes the date of the review. Take a look at the screenshot of five reviews below for a single right ear Bluetooth headphone (generic AirPod). This is “single earphone” has 18 5-star reviews, and all of them are dated July 25, 2018.
It’s highly unlikely that all these are organic reviews on the same day without help. Most Amazon sellers receive feedback (whether product or seller) in the single-digit percentages, usually 1-3%. And that’s even with email services that send follow-up emails.
For a product like this single earphone to get that much positive feedback in one day, it’d have to provide some kind of incentive or the accounts are fake. Both cases are not allowed under Amazon’s policy. Or the seller could have just used an existing company that provides fake reviews as a service. Regardless, such practices lead to suspension.
Fake reviews don’t have any Verified Purchase badges
One of the ways Amazon has reduced fake reviews is by introducing the “Verified Purchase” badge. While this hasn’t completely stopped fake reviews, it has made cheating the system more expensive and time-consuming. Sellers now have to create fake accounts, join groups, and reimburse actual buyers in order to get positive reviews.
In our example of the single earphone above, none of the reviews have the “Verified Purchase” badge, meaning those customers may not have used the product. Because they haven’t used the product, they wouldn’t know what to write. Instead, they’d have to follow a list of requirements by the seller.
Here’s how a review with the Verified Purchase badge looks like:
Having a Verified Purchase badge increases the likelihood that the review is honest, but that’s not necessarily true. There are numerous Facebook groups, websites, and clubs that exist only to catapult new product sales rankings, velocity, and reviews. These clubs also exist to destroy their competitor’s products since people who leave positive reviews can also leave negative ones for pay.
Sellers would join a Facebook group, offer full refunds and sometimes extra in exchange for purchase and review. In this manner, products are able to get the Verified Purchase badge, and Amazon believes the purchases are genuine since they’re going to people around the country. This practice is much more difficult to detect because it requires research. Some of these groups are also invite-only.
Customer profiles show some discrepancies for their fake reviews
The brutal landscape of ecommerce means that all marketplaces need to make buying easy. Amazon’s one-click purchasing was amazing at the time because it didn’t require customers to spend time signing up for an account or verifying an account. Customers don’t like obstacles to their spending, so making shopping easier in any way increases sales.
But allowing customers to easily create accounts also leads to abuses. Just as simple customer account creation increases sales, it can also lead to fake reviews. These fake accounts may not even use credit cards since they can use Amazon gift cards for their purchases.
Customers generally don’t look into the profiles of the reviewers, but if they do, they’ll see some oddities. For instance, Amazon’s purge of bad reviews in 2018 meant that a large number of reviews disappeared. Reviews that were deemed legitimate remained, and this is true for reviews in customer profiles as well.
Note the fake customer profile above. This customer has written 4 reviews, but none show up under Community activity. Amazon likely removed the reviews. Customers who left reviews will generally have their reviews under this section, like the customer below:
But not all customer profiles had their fake reviews purged. If you look at some customer profiles, they’ll still have their fake reviews present. A good sign of an inauthentic profile is that there are only a few reviews, and those reviews are all written on the same day or within a few days. Fake profiles generally have only a few reviews and they are all missing. It’s likely too that legitimate reviews were purged as well. If this is the case, then the customer profiles would have more than a handful of missing reviews.
This is usually a sign that someone created the account recently just to leave fake reviews. The sellers then abandon or forget about these fake accounts. See the profile below as an example. Actual Amazon customers who leave reviews would have a history. Those reviews also wouldn’t all occur on the same day.
All fake reviews in the profile are for generic products
Ask yourself this: what’s the likelihood that you’ll buy 5 generic products and leave 5-star reviews for all of them on the same day? It’s highly unlikely for several reasons. First, not all of the generic products will work well. In fact, if legitimate reviews are any indication, then you’re likely to have issues with generic products, prompting you to leave negative reviews instead. These fake accounts generally have 4-6 fake reviews written for generic products with no other activity. You may spend a day writing all of your reviews at once, but if your account was legitimate, you’d have a history of this behavior.
In cases where the accounts were hacked, you’d see reviews from early 2010 or so written by the original owner of the account. These reviews may be mixed and authentic. Then you’d see a gap of several years with no activity. Suddenly, you’d see 5-star reviews of generic products all show up on the same day.
Secondly, people with negative experiences are more likely to leave feedback than people with positive experiences. Many people whose purchases meet expectations move on with their lives. They don’t make it a point to log in and leave positive feedback unless something extraordinary happens, like customer service that goes above and well beyond expectations. Conversely, people who feel slighted will take any opportunity to air their grievances. The result is that a product is more likely to receive negative feedback than positive.
Finally, the reviews you leave wouldn’t necessarily include specific features that are also contained in the title or the bullet points. This is likely an attempt to manipulate search rankings. In the case of the “Beafup” watch, the reviewer lists features of the watch without stating how well they work. Legitimate reviews don’t often list the features of a device. Why bother? Those are already on the detail page or bullet points.
Reviews show an inconsistent use of language
One marker of fake reviews is the language. Most customers aren’t the best of writers, nor do they care about the grammatical structure of a sentence. But there’s a common pattern of language mistakes these reviewers make. Much like people who live in different regions have different accents, people who write have a certain style of writing. These styles may include clear patterns of specific types of errors. For instance, you may be using certain phrases repeatedly, while someone else may use the same vocabulary word incorrectly.
Some of the reviews even purposefully include bad grammar in order to “trick” people into believing the fake reviews are legitimate. After all, doesn’t everyone make a spelling mistake every now and then, like “food” instead of “good”? It’s as though someone is attempting to appear more natural. However, when compared to other reviews written by the customer, these mistakes are clear signs.
In the reviews above from the same customer, there are numerous grammar errors, as you would expect from your average reviewer. But there are some inconsistencies that just don’t add up.
The 2nd review states “2th,” which isn’t a mistake people would normally make. This is a clear and careless editing mistake. Other issues include the editing error with the additional period towards the end and the “my” not being capitalized. Why is this a sign? Previous sentences all begin with capitalized letters—it’s as though someone edited the review to add the last section on the shoes. Other inconsistent grammar errors include spacing after the period and spacing after the colon. The first half of the review is done fairly well, but the 2nd half is riddled with mistakes. The clear difference between the first and second half of review #2 is an indicator that someone else with a poor command of the language added to the review.
Take a look at review #2. The inconsistency in the use of language is clear because the reviewer copied and pasted a legitimate review from another popular brand of shoes. See below for the Verified Purhcase review for a pair of ASICS.
Overall, it seems as though the reviewer is copying and pasting reviews from popular products and then poorly editing the reviews. This explains why the language is so inconsistent for the profile. What’s worse is that the reviewer is copying featured reviews, making detection easy.
While the Amazon account may be shared by a household, all of the signs taken together point to a fake account created explicitly to leave fake reviews. These fake review methods aren’t the only ones sellers use to manipulate ranking and sales. There are other, more difficult to detect methods like using giveaways to collect reviews.
If you track products with fake reviews, you’d see just how lucrative having these reviews are for sellers of low-quality generic goods. In the case of this single right earphone, all 18 reviews are fake. Each account has approximately 4 other 5-star reviews for other products left on July 27th, 2018. Even with a conservative estimate, that means that all these products have been boosted by roughly 72 5-star reviews, resulting in numerous sales before anyone catches on.
It’s not easy doing adhering to policy on Amazon, and it’s a constant struggle to police your own brand from hijackers and other dishonest sellers. But giving in to the temptation to manipulate your reviews isn’t the right answer since you’ve worked so hard to build your brand. Don’t throw it away in a moment of weakness by getting dishonest reviews. Amazon will eventually catch on and suspend you.
There’s hope! In the time it took to complete this article, Amazon removed all 18 fake reviews for the product. While the listing is still active, it no longer has any reviews whatsoever. But the Questions and Answers remain, and a careful look into those will reveal all that customers need to know to stay away.