Amazon’s rigorous attempt to eradicate fake product reviews is not new. The e-commerce giant recently sued more than 1000 fake reviewers and is working on measures such as ranking trusted reviews and developing algorithms to weed out the fake reviews. Now it’s announced that incented reviews–except for books or those coming in through its Vine program–will now be allowed. This Amazon ban on incentivized reviews is clearly another move in the crackdown on fake reviews.
The reason behind the Amazon band on incentivized reviews is not very difficult to comprehend. Some of the reviews that customers read on Amazon platform are the result of paid work – the vendor of those items may have sent the reviewer a free product. It’s very unlikely that the receptor of such free units will say anything negative about the vendor’s product. It is not at all surprising that most of those reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. Clearly, the whole purpose of ratings and reviews, which is to give customers access to the fair and honest opinions of other people, is getting destroyed.
Besides, incentivized reviews affect the perception that customers develop regarding the particular product. According to a study of over seven million reviews by ReviewMeta, products with incentivized reviews get an average of 0.38 stars higher than those that don’t appear to have been incentivized. An average product on Amazon carries a rating of 4.4. If a product that naturally deserves 4.36 rating suddenly becomes a product with 4.74 stars it is clearly putting a mediocre product into the league of the top rated products. The study has also pointed out that there is no dearth of people who have reviewed several hundred products — and given a full five stars to each.
Even though the Amazon ban on incentivized reviews prohibits creating, modifying, or posting content in exchange for compensation of any kind (including free or discounted products), the only exception to its Vine program. With Amazon Vine, Amazon — rather than the vendor – invites trusted reviewers to post their opinions. It claims to have all the important controls and filters to keep away the biased reviews. Despite Amazon’s announcement that it is trying to make Vine even more helpful for the sellers and vendors in getting more and quick organic reviews, there is still an air of uncertainty around the program itself. Amazon has never released the program’s membership criteria. It is believed that its fees run into the thousands of dollars.
But realistically speaking, it will be too much to expect that the Amazon ban on incentivized reviews will really completely rid the site of fake reviews. According to the policy, the ban is on giving freebies in exchange for reviews, but not on the distribution of freebies itself. Vendors can still offer free products. If the reviewer doesn’t mention that he did receive any free product to write a review, the problem of fake reviews will be back to the square one.
What Amazon has done is necessary if it wants to make its reviews authentic and trustworthy. But the reality is potential miscreants will always try to find the smallest loophole in the policy or the system itself to safeguard their vested interests. A lot more will depend on how the e-commerce industry as a whole reacts in the future! This is bound to be a larger problem as the lines between brand content and user generated content continue to blur.
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