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18 Jun 2021

Best-selling Amazon products show signs of fake and incentivised review practice

Customers of a range of popular brands on Amazon claim they were offered incentives for positive reviews
Amazon app on tablet

A Which? investigation into some of Amazon's bestselling products has revealed repeated claims from buyers of being offered incentives for positive reviews.

In May 2021, Which? scoured the top 10 bestselling products on a range of popular tech categories, including smartwatches, in-ear headphones, dash cams and Bluetooth speakers.

Of the nine categories we looked at, five - smartwatches, dash cams, portable Bluetooth speakers, in-ear headphones and surveillance video equipment - included buyers claiming that they had received incentivisation in the form of free gifts, refunds or gift vouchers for a positive review, or been offered a reward to change a negative review.

Almost a quarter of the products among those five categories showed repeated signs of attempted incentivisation. In the case of 12 brands - most of which are typically only found on online marketplaces - multiple references had been left on listings pointing to review incentivisation across other products in their range.

Seven of the products were Amazon's Choice - which recommends 'highly rated, well-priced products available to dispatch immediately'.

With Amazon Prime Day sales looking to entice shoppers with big discounts, buyers should shop savvy to make sure they pick a bargain product they can trust.

Learn how to shop smart on Amazon - read our guide on how to spot a fake review

How does review incentivisation work?

Brands or sellers on Amazon can attempt to manipulate review ratings, or encourage more five-star reviews, by offering rewards to buyers.

In many cases, this took the form of a gift card, voucher or Amazon credit in exchange for a five-star review - sometimes offering rewards of £30 or more.

Others claim that they were offered free gifts or rewards to change negative reviews. Four of the six Apeman dash cam listings we checked had wording indicating shoppers had been encouraged to remove or amend their less than impressive reviews. This ranged from £5 to complimentary memory cards and 'multiple' free gifts offered to one person.

Wansview security camera listings showed two buyers stating the seller had reached out to them with the offer of incentives to change their one-star reviews.

But review incentivsation doesn't always pay off, at least for the buyer.

Among Anker's product listings, which included wireless earphones and speakers, one shopper said that they were offered a $15* Amazon voucher for their four-star review. They complained in their edited review that they were 'promised' a gift card that they never received.

Another who bought a pair of Zhuolang in-ear headphones, which is also an Amazon's Choice item, said they had been given a voucher by the seller that didn't work to write a positive review.

Incentivisation is only one of the tricks sellers use to post fake reviews on Amazon

Buyers react to attempts to influence reviews

Many of the comments we read from buyers suggested that they weren't happy with the attempt to influence their review of the product, with some calling the integrity of other five-star reviews into question because of it. One buyer wrote that this practice 'undermines the product' and another said that the incident made it 'really hard to gauge a decent product'.

One buyer of a Popglory smartwatch left a one-star review and divulged that they had received an email from the seller asking for them to remove their comment to be given a £15 PayPal transfer or Amazon voucher. While they refused this offer, the buyer called the situation 'terrible' and encouraged other potential buyers to 'avoid' the seller 'at all costs'.

Others suggest that review incentivsation wasn't necessary. One shopper's review of a Littlelf security camera said they were 'super unhappy' to spot a card in the item's packaging outlining that if they left a 'good review' they would get $30* deposited into their PayPal account. 'There's better ways of getting good reviews,' they added. 'Luckily, they earned an amazing review without use of that card.'

Some buyers openly admitted the only reason they wrote a five-star review was for the reward.

Find out why fake reviews could make you twice as likely to choose a poor quality product

Repeated evidence of incentivisation

Where we found Amazon bestselling products that included buyers claiming that they had received incentives, we also checked other products in that brand's range. In 12 cases, we discovered multiple examples of similar claims among the customer reviews. These 12 brands were:

BrandProducts with claims of incentivisationAverage star rating of these products

Victure was among the worst affected, with 11 of its 29 products we looked at having listings with reviews where shoppers stated that they have been incentivised to leave a review or a positive recommendation, several with a free micro-SD card. These items included a baby monitor, wi-fi booster and wireless security cameras.

Four out of six of Apeman's listings also had additional instances of the words 'bribe' or 'incentive' in their reviews section, such as several people who said they had been offered £15 to £30 gift vouchers to write a five-star review. This came alongside three out of seven of ASWEE's products for sale on Amazon having reviews with similar references to 'incentivisation' or 'bribes'.

Zhuolang had nine products for sale with reviews featuring claims of 'incentivisation' from shoppers. One said they were offered a fake Amazon gift card to give positive feedback, yet still left a five-star review.

Enacfire had eight items with evidence of fake and incentivised review practices, with one buyer stating they were 'concerned' that they had been offered a £10 Amazon voucher to give the Bluetooth speakers they bought and another outlining in their updated feedback they were contacted by the seller 'a few weeks' after submitting their original review with an offer to replace, refund or give them a gift voucher 'as compensation'. This customer chose a replacement item and consequentially changed their one-star rating to four stars.

Join our campaign to help stop fake reviews.

Case study: Teaisiy webcam more gloom than Zoom

Tim Winkle bought a Teaisiy USB webcam on 30 June 2020 so he could attend meetings via Zoom.He spotted reviews on Amazon that looked 'very good', but also noticed that there 'were some lower reviews' as well, but opted to purchase the webcam anyway.

When the product arrived, Tim described the quality as very poor and therefore returned the webcam directly to Amazon. Tim promptly received his money back and left a two-star review outlining his experience with the product.

In February 2021, Tim began receiving emails from the seller requesting that he delete his negative review in exchange for an Amazon gift card worth £10. When he refused this, the seller then offered Tim a £15 voucher, followed by £20, £30, £40 and £50, all of which he rejected.

The seller assured Tim it had 'changed to another manufacturer' to ensure the item's quality improved and told him it was a 'very small business that depends on reviews' and would 'not survive without [his] help'.

Tim said he is wary of reviews on Amazon due to Which?'s previous investigations into the issue, but said he had 'no idea' reviews could be manipulated in this manner.His review of the Teaisiy webcam, as well as the listing for the item itself, has since been removed from Amazon.

Case study: Ankovo pulse oximeter skips a beat

Christopher Bunton experienced a similar issue when he bought an Ankovo pulse oximeter in January.When the monitor turned out to be 'flimsy', Christopher left a review of it reflecting that.

The seller contacted Christopher in March in a bid to get him to remove his review in exchange for a £20 voucher or money transfer.The seller then got back in touch in May, upping its offer to £35. The person who emailed Christopher from the seller asked him to 'please delete' [his] comment or change it to a five-star review on several occasions, adding that they were 'just a little employee'.

He refused all the offers the seller made and reported it to Amazon.

Christopher told Which? he's now 'exceedingly cynical' about Amazon's commitment to ensure its reviews are fair. 'I completely ignore the ratings section and try to avoid the marketplace vendors,' he said. 'I note that the information on who is selling the product has become increasingly hard to see and my experience is that a lack of transparency in all retail is a warning signal.'

He added that as far as he is aware, Amazon has taken 'no action and the product continues to have excellent reviews. It seems to confirm to me that Amazon has taken no action on the breach of their conditions'.

Have you experienced review incentivisation?

If you've come across online customer reviews you think are suspicious and may be fake, or are approached to write an incentivised positive review for a product - perhaps with the offer of a refund or free gift, or are asked to join a review club - you can help by sharing your experience. Get in touch and tell us your story by emailing the Which? Fake Reviews team at fakereviews@which.co.uk

You can also tell us about your own experiences with fake reviews on Which? Conversation.

How to stay one step ahead of fake reviews

  • Be more sceptical of brands you haven't heardof While some of the companies may well be honest start-ups, others attempt to take shortcuts to the top of the listings. Overwhelmingly, our research into fake reviews has found little-known or unknown brands being the main culprits. If you don't recognise the brand, check online to see if it has a legitimate-looking website, with clear contact details so you can get in touch if anything goes wrong.
  • Don't just trust the overall star rating Inspecting the comments can save you time (and money) in the long run. Although an item could have high overall reviews, there may be signs of incentivisation or other suspicious activity when you dig a little deeper. These can include overly positive language that reads like an infomercial and a wide selection of pictures - Which?'s investigations have found that this is a common request from sellers who incentivise positive reviews.
  • Check the less positive reviews Those who attempt to incentivise reviews commonly ask for five stars, so it's far more useful to look at four star reviews and below. Keep your eyes peeled for complaints about the item failing over time, problems specific to a particular feature that many reviewers are reporting and signs of incentivisation - such as an offer of a reward for posting a good review. You can use the search bar to check for specific keywords if you want to dig deeper.

Amazon isn't the only concern when it comes to fake review: find outhow fake Google reviews can boost UK businesses

Which? calls for Amazon to 'enforce its own policies'

Which? believes that stronger action is needed to address the ongoing problems caused by misleading reviews on online marketplaces and other platforms.

We are calling for the CMA's investigation to quickly get to the bottom of the problem of fake and misleading reviews. If it finds that sites that host reviews are not doing enough to detect and prevent misleading reviews, then strong action must be taken to prevent increasing numbers of consumers from being misled.

Rocio Concha, director of policy and advocacy at Which?, said: 'It's really concerning that consumers are raising the alarm on misleading tactics by sellers being used on bestselling Amazon products - particularly at a time when more people are shopping online than ever before because of the pandemic.

'Amazon must, as an absolute minimum, do more to enforce its own policies - especially when evidence of manipulation is hidden in plain sight in its bestsellers lists.

'The CMA needs to urgently get to the bottom of the problem of misleading and fake reviews, and be prepared to take strong action to ensure consumers can trust the reviews that influence billions of pounds of spending every year.'

Amazon shadow person

How did Amazon and the brands respond?

Amazon has a specific policy designed to help prevent buyer incentivisation from sellers, brands from cheating their way to becoming bestsellers and to protect shoppers. Its anti-manipulation policy for customer reviews states that 'any attempts to manipulate reviews', including by 'directly or indirectly contributing false, misleading or inauthentic content, is strictly prohibited'.

The platform said that if it determines a seller or brand has attempted to manipulate reviews, it may immediately 'suspend or terminate your Amazon privileges, remove reviews and delist related products'.

This also follows Amazon suspending major tech suppliers' Aukey and Mpow selling privileges in May due to 'suspicious behaviour'.

Amazon's response

Amazon told us that its objective is to ensure customers see authentic and relevant reviews, and that it uses powerful machine learning tools and skilled investigators to analyse more than 10 million review submissions weekly, aiming to stop abusive reviews before they're ever published.

It added, however, that it and other online retailers 'can't do this alone', and that the systematic manipulation of reviews needs consistent enforcement and global coordination with stronger enforcement powers given to regulators against bad actors.

Amazon encourages customers who doubt the credibility of a review on a product to click the Report Abuse link available below each review.

Enacfire's response

Enacfire said that the reviews we shared were damaging to its brand image, that it will perform an internal investigation, and cease supplying any distributors and external third-parties if necessary. It said that a requirement of all distributors is to obey all the policies from Amazon and that the behavior was conducted by Amazon sellers who sell Enacfire products.

Wansview's response

Wansview thanked us for bringing the reviews we found to its attention and said: 'We've known about the reviews you mentioned since January 2021 and have already discussed [them] with the retailer. We got to know they offered their products to improve customer satisfaction [and] to help increase the listing ratings. Due to [their] lack of policy learning, the retailer's behaviour has violated Amazon's policy and may mislead consumers' brand recognition. After checking the review content, we have requested them to carefully study the Amazon policy and learn the latest Amazon rules. We urged them [to] stop such kind of review maintenance behaviour.'

It said that any retailers who don't obey Amazon's policies will have their distribution cancelled.

Which? didn't receive responses from any of the other brands referenced in this investigation.

*We researched all reviews for the products and brands we studied, which included both UK and international sales.