Are Amazon Reviews Trustworthy? How to spot influenced reviews

Tools to spot fake reviews
Fake reviews hurt buyer confidence. As a blogger, I always share honest opinions (even negative ones). Here is what happened to me when I trusted false reviews and the tools I use to detect them.

Have you ever bought a product based on positive reviews only to be sourly disappointed by the item you received? I am shedding some light dirty side of blogging and product reviews that many people fear to discuss.

Bloggers are ruining, well, blogging. While it sounds implausible, many influencers actively sabotage themselves (and other bloggers) with their dishonest reviews on Amazon, other review sites, and their blogs. Additionally, product manufacturers and sellers breed mistrust by using unscrupulous reviewers willing to taint their opinions.

As a review blogger myself, I try to follow the FTC Endorsement Guidelines.  Even before the FTC laid the much-needed groundwork in 2017, I already disclosed advertiser relationships. I also never recommend products I don’t like. I still actively use many of the products I’ve positively reviewed. However, for whatever reason, many reviewers seem compelled to leave glowingly positive reviews in exchange for products that are complete and utter crap.  Bloggers, believe it or not, it’s ok to say, “I am glad the company sent this to me for free because this product sucked and isn’t worth buying!” Your opinions help shape shoppers’ purchasing decisions. Want to make a real difference? Leave a REAL review (check out my product fails on YouTube). No, you may not receive as much free junk (precisely what most of it is), but your followers learn to trust your opinion – and you are letting them down!

Are fake reviews frequent?

I am not saying that every influencer who receives a free product leaves a review without thoroughly checking it out. I mean, some of us DO care about our reputations. However, false, positive reviews are pervasive enough that I am getting irked. And, I’m known for being chill as a summer breeze.

To spot fake reviews, I look for patterns, such as many reviews across a short period. Frequently, when companies give away review products, they give them out in batches, and bloggers have a deadline in which to share their opinion.

Also, Amazon sellers sometimes ask influencers to ask or respond to questions to generate traffic to their listings. So, I look for an excessive number of Q&A compared to competitive products. And, I also check to see how many lengthy reviews with multiple photos exist. Yep. I usually do leave a detailed report with pictures; however, most people don’t. So, if I see too many of these things in conjunction, I look more skeptically.

On products with MANY reviews, I use ReviewMeta. Unlike many fake review spotter sites, ReviewMeta tells you WHY they believe the reviews are authentic (or not). Unsurprisingly, they use much of the same criteria I do. However, since it’s a browser plug-in, it takes much of the work out of hashing through data. Unfortunately, this site only works on Amazon.

Fakespot analyzes many sites, including Amazon, Walmart, Bestbuy, Steam, Sephora products, Yelp, and TripAdvisor listings.

Each of these free tools offers a browser plug-in. When shopping on Amazon, I tend to use ReviewMeta more often because they provide a more detailed analysis.

What’s prompted my uncharacteristic review outrage?

Well, this week, David and I made an impromptu Target purchase. We saw that the Shark Ninja IQ Robot R101 vacuum we’d ogled was on sale for a whopping $150 off! After opening the Target app and seeing the 4.9-star review, we purchased it. However, much to our disappointment, the product failed to work as advertised.

When I logged on to Shark’s website to leave my review, I noticed something that wasn’t as obvious on Target’s website.  Most of the glowing 5-star reviews came from people who received a free vacuum.

On Shark’s website, the review looks like this:

 

Clearly denoted review for free Shark Robot Product on Shark's website

However, Target’s website, the post looked like this:
Review for Shark (received for free) on Target

See the “originally posted on Shark Ninja” notice? Target imported the reviews from Shark’s website. To indicate products in exchange for a review, Shark uses an image above the screenshot. But, Target uses a textual notification. Since the free reviews carry dates from months ago, I didn’t immediately see them front-and-center on Target’s product listing page.

And then there is downright deception

As a review blogger, companies frequently contact me to share their products on our blog. Most of them want honest feedback. Then, I have some that offer to “buy it on Amazon and get the money back to your paypal account after shipment? I asked this way because then the review will show ‘verified purchase’ and will not be removed by Amazon.” This message is a direct copy-paste from a Facebook message I received this week. And it’s not the only one. I’ve also received requests offering to do the same, except instead of providing reimbursement after shipping, they want to reimburse me AFTER I leave a review on Amazon. Of course, reviewers fear leaving a negative review in this scenario will result in the company withholding reimbursement. It feels like blackmail.

These offers violate Amazon’s terms of service. Bloggers, please don’t do this! People rely on us to leave honest reviews. Because of all the people who felt compelled to leave a glowing rating after receiving a free high-value item, I made a $500 purchase blunder. If you get something for free, you still need to leave an HONEST opinion and thoroughly test a product before issuing a thoughtless report. Thankfully, Target allowed me to return it. But, is your integrity really for sale like that?

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Happily married to the love of my life. It's just us, our 5 cats, and our beautiful woods. I'm loving living back in the Florida panhandle being close to family. I love cooking, living a healthy lifestyle, taking care of our cozy home, and trying new things.

We enjoy hosting parties and my husband and I are both avid gamers. You can find me on PS4 as SunshineFlaGirl. We also play tabletop RPGs and eurogames.

Alicia Taylor

Happily married to the love of my life. It's just us, our 5 cats, and our beautiful woods. I'm loving living back in the Florida panhandle being close to family. I love cooking, living a healthy lifestyle, taking care of our cozy home, and trying new things.

We enjoy hosting parties and my husband and I are both avid gamers. You can find me on PS4 as SunshineFlaGirl. We also play tabletop RPGs and eurogames.

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