Tag Archives: Amazon

Spot Fake Reviews in Online Retail

By Tracey Dowdy

Amazon likes to think of itself as a level playing field for sellers where the best products rise to the top through honest feedback posted in the product reviews. In a perfect world, consumers buy a product or service through Amazon and then post a genuine review, free from any kind of incentive from the seller.

However, that ideal is far from reality. A Buzzfeed News story uncovered an entire industry built on fake reviews. The competition among third-party sellers is intense, so much so that shady sellers offer “black hat” services to boost rankings and help the seller appear higher than they should in search results.

Renee DiResta, director of research at cybersecurity company New Knowledge, told BuzzFeed News, “The extent to which sellers go to game the system, and the amount of resources they devote to doing it, [are] a testament to how Amazon’s recommendation and ranking algorithms shape consumption. While Amazon repeats that ‘even one fake review is too many,’ the fact remains that manipulative tactics from dishonest sellers make honest business owners afraid that they can’t remain competitive. And when manipulation is successful, it’s Amazon’s customers who are the victims.”

Amazon has made an effort to police manipulation of its marketplace, but a business model this successful is difficult to rein in. It’s so successful, a YouTube search for the term “super URL” results in heaps of tutorials on how to game the system and manipulate product and service rankings. These black hat consultants hide in plain sight attending and even speaking at Amazon seller conferences and events. Many have Facebook pages promoting their services.

Where does that leave us as consumers?

Rick Broida, a Senior Editor at CNET, offers two valuable tips for identifying fake reviews on Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart and other online retailers.

First, make use of Fakespot, a site that evaluates product reviews using artificial intelligence to identify fake reviews. Just copy and paste the link to the product’s page, then click “Analyze.”  Even better, add the Fakespot extension to Chrome for immediate results. Just hit the Fakespot icon while you’re on the product page, and it will instantly tell you whether what you’re reading is legit or not. You can download the Fakespot app for both iOS and Android, so you always have reliable information at your fingertips.

Currently, Fakespot works on Amazon, Sephora, Best Buy, WalMart, Steam, TripAdvisor, and Yelp.

To give perspective on the scope of the problem, Fakespot found that over 50% of Walmart’s product reviews were “unauthentic and unreliable.” Best Buy, on the other hand, had less than 5% fake reviews.

Once analyzed, Fakespot provides a letter grade – A to F – based on the total number of reviews and the percentage that were flagged as unreliable or fake.

Another option is ReviewMeta, that exclusive screens Amazon reviews. They are clear from the moment you click on the site that their analysis is an estimate, not a fact. “ReviewMeta is not able to determine which reviews are ‘fake’ and which are not with 100% accuracy.  We’re simply looking at different trends and making a ‘best guess’ estimate about the reviews.” They also caution that a Pass/Fail/Warn does not necessarily indicate the presence or absence of a fake review.

“ReviewMeta is not able to determine which reviews are ‘fake’ and which are not with 100% accuracy.  We’re simply looking at different trends and making a ‘best guess’ estimate about the reviews.”

So instead of a letter grade like Fakespot, ReviewMeta shows you product reviews with the questionable ones removed.

The challenge here is that the two sites often provide different results, sometimes very different, so you’ll need to trust your instinct. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

On the other hand, just because a product has fake reviews, that doesn’t necessarily translate to an inferior quality product, and, just because a product is first in the search results, you don’t necessarily see the best option. For example, if you’re shopping for a cheaper version of an OtterBox phone case, a search of “off brand otter box” will bring up over 8000 results. When I clicked on the first option with 4.5 stars, Fakespot gave it a C, while the first option on the second page with only 3.5 stars earned an A. The first phone case analysis comes with the warning, “Our engine has analyzed and discovered that 64.7% of the reviews are reliable,” while the second says, “Our engine has profiled the reviewer patterns and has determined that there is minimal deception involved.”

At the end of the day, the adage “buyer beware” is still your best defense.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Tips for Shopping on Amazon

Once upon a time, big-box and department stores ruled the earth like gentle retail behemoths, and the thought of purchasing an item online, sight unseen, was madness. Who in their right mind would share their credit card information, home address, or shipping details like “leave package under the mat on the porch?” Then along came Amazon, and everything changed. Through my Amazon Prime membership, I’ve purchased everything from patio furniture to my Mother of the bride dress, and the possibility of never having to walk inside a mall again fills my heart with such happiness it brings a tear to my eye.

And before you condemn me for the collapse of the American small business economy, I buy local when I can. But, there are times when the convenience of Amazon collides with the time constraints of my life making it my go-to option in those moments. There’s a lot more to a Prime Membership than just free two-day shipping on many items, including Amazon Prime Music, Pantry, and Video. Make the most of your membership by taking advantage of these lesser-known features.

When you shop through Amazon Smile, The AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price from your eligible AmazonSmile purchases to the charity of your choice. There are over one million charities to choose from, so no matter the cause near and dear to your heart, there’s certain to be a charity that resonates with you.

Pay attention to your stage of life. Are you a student? If so, through Prime Student you’re eligible for six months of Prime for free, and a half-price discount going forward (only $59 per year). If you’re a parent, sign up for Amazon Family to get a 20% discount on items like diapers and baby food, a free Baby Registry Welcome Box, an emailed newsletter with parenting tips, product reviews, and exclusive deals. Plus, you get a 15% Baby Registry completion discount.

If you’re in the market for furniture, Amazon’s Ar View lets you view products in your home before you buy them. To use it, open the Amazon app on your smartphone, tap the camera icon in the search bar, and then scroll “view in your room” and select a product.

Make sure you’re getting the best price by paying attention to three things:

  • If you don’t need the item right away, check to see if a third party seller is offering it at a lower price. Many offer free shipping, and if you’re willing to wait a day or two longer, you may get a better deal. Just make sure you review their return policy as their terms may differ from Amazon’s.   
  • Check out Amazon Warehouse deals. These are products that have been returned by customers like you and me, so many are open-box but still quality products, often deeply discounted. For example, currently, there are Sony WH-CH500 Wireless On-Ear Headphones for just $14.12.  
  • Amazon’s Outlet offers closeouts, markdowns, and overstock deals for Prime members. Items are discounted anywhere from 10-70% off list prices.

While we’re talking savings, take advantage of Subscribe & Save to save up to 15% on items you frequently purchase like paper towels, pet food, baby wipes, and pretty much anything else you use regularly. There’s no long-term commitment, and you can cancel any time. You can also take advantage of ordering through Alexa Prime-eligible physical products. On supported devices, you can also ask Alexa to place orders for music.

Finally, take heart if you’re one of the 26 million Americans who’ve lost packages to porch pirates, Amazon may replace that package for you at no additional cost. To make your case to Customer Service, you’ll need to have purchased directly from Amazon, not a third-party seller, and include your tracking numbers. Don’t expect to be compensated if this is a recurring issue – Amazon tracks who reports stolen items – and in future, consider using an Amazon locker or Amazon Hub to protect your purchases.

Reuse or Recycle Your Android or iOS Device

By Tracey Dowdy

The first iPhone shipped to customers back in June of 2007 – less than 12 years ago, but somehow, it feels like smartphones have been around forever.

In those 12 years, we’ve seen a lot of changes and updated features for our smartphones and tablets, which encouraged us to upgrade, and upgrade again, and again…to the point there’s a good chance you have an old phone or outdated tablet sitting in a drawer or taking up space on a shelf. But instead of hanging on to digital clutter, consider these options to put your old devices to new use.

Smart Home Center – With devices like Google Assistant, Alexa, Nest, Hue, Smart TV’s, and Amazon’s Fire Stick becoming more common and accessible, it makes sense to repurpose your old phone or tablet as a dedicated hub for your smart home enabled tech. You can even use them to set up a media streaming center. The simplest way is to clear unused apps and free up as much data as possible. Download the streaming apps you need, along with any tools you’re using — Google HomeAmazon Fire TV RemoteNest, Hue, etc. – connect to the same network as the devices, and you’re good to go!

Your Child’s First Device – If you’ve ever handed off a $500 phone or tablet to a toddler, you know the gut-felt fear usually only seen in horror movies. But, handing off a phone or tablet that’s been sitting in a drawer or is being replaced with an updated version is a great idea. You’ll want to be sure to lock down any features you don’t want them to access through Parental Controls, and invest in a sturdy case as any device in the hands of a toddler is likely to take a fair amount of punishment.

 Digital Photo Frame – Remember the first digital photo frames? They were the hottest Christmas present of the year when they were first introduced, but the image quality wasn’t great, and they weren’t really reliable. But, your old Android tablet or iPad can make an excellent scrolling photo display, rolling through hundreds of photos an hour. How To Geek has a simple, easy to follow tutorial on how to make it happen on your Android tablet, and CNET has instructions for your iPad. Besides the vast improvement in image quality, both are WiFi connected, so you can set it up to automatically update to new images.

Security Camera/Baby Monitor – There are plenty of options for home security systems available, but remember, security cameras are simply network connected video cameras. Even the older versions of phones and tablets have network connectivity, so they’re perfect for use as home security cameras, baby or even pet monitors. There are many options available for both iOS and Android devices, but one that receives consistently positive reviews from experts is Alfred. The app allows any Wi-Fi connected phone to broadcast its camera feed to any other phone attached to the same account with no limit on the number of cameras you can connect to a single account.

Dedicated eBook Reader – I will always prefer an actual physical book to an eReader, but there are times when they come in handy. Using your old iPad or tablet as a dedicated reader, particularly for cookbooks, spares your cookbooks and primary device from the inevitable mess that comes from cooking and baking.

Help Scientific Research – Did you know you can take part in important scientific research with apps like BOINC for Android and DreamLab?  Both apps use your device’s processing power to run calculations for a variety of research projects – BOINC focuses on research on diseases, global warming, and space, while DreamLab focuses on finding a cure for cancer.

Recycle, Sell, or Donate – If none of these options are viable for you, you can always recycle, sell, or donate your old phones and tablets. The Environmental Protection Agency has a list of locations where you can take your unwanted tech and have it safely disposed of.  Many retailers like Target and Best Buy offer trade-in options, and the website Gazelle offers consumers cash for working or broken devices, and offers deals on refurbs, providing less expensive options when upgrading.

Lifewire has a list reviewing trade-in programs, including the good and the bad about trade-ins with Amazon, Flypsy, and YouRenew.   

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Tips for Voice Shopping with Alexa

 By Tracey Dowdy

I’m not that old, but when I think of grocery shopping back when my children were little, it’s a blur of car seats, dropped toys, cereal negotiations, and the occasional tantrum – not always by my children. But the gods have smiled upon moms and dads everywhere and given us the power of voice shopping with very own personal assistant – Alexa.

If you’re new to using Alexa for more than checking the forecast or settling an argument about trivia, you’ll be glad to know that with a few simple steps you can use Alexa to add items to your Amazon shopping cart, complete the purchase, and even track your order.

The first step is, of course, to become an Amazon Prime member at the cost of $119 per year. Once that’s complete, go to your Alexa app and choose Menu > Settings > Alexa Account > Voice Purchasing. Click on Purchase by Voice. Then go to 1-Click Preferences on the Amazon website and set up a payment method. To purchase an item, simply say, “Alexa, add (product or item) to my shopping cart.” Alexa will add the item to your cart. Repeat until your shopping list is complete, then say, “Alexa, order items in my shopping cart.” Alexa will ask you to confirm your order, allowing you to review the items and make changes before the order is sent. You can specify Prime Now for faster delivery, but you’ll have to specify by saying “Alexa, order (item) from Prime Now.” If the item is available for two-hour delivery, it will be added to your cart and be to your door in two hours.

The beauty of ordering through Alexa is that you can be as vague or specific as you like. If you’re ordering a Lightening to USB cable, you can say, “Alexa, order one SEGMOI Apple certified USB Lightning cable” and it will be added to your cart. Or, say, “Alexa, add a Lightning to USB cable to my cart,” and Alexa will choose an Amazon Prime product for you unless you’ve ordered the item before. In this case, Alexa will default to your previous specifications. If you’re not looking for a specific brand or style, you can say, “Alexa, find me deals on (item),” and Alexa will find options, list the sale price and ask if you want to purchase it. Simply say “yes” to add it to your cart or “no” to move to the next deal. This is particularly useful if you’re shopping for gifts and need suggestions. CNET has excellent guides for using Alexa to buy gifts or gift cards.

By now you’ve likely heard examples of kids – or parrotswho have ordered hundreds of dollars of items through Alexa so learn from them and add a four-digit code to authorize purchases. Go to the app, tap Menu > Settings > Alexa Account > Voice Purchasing. Then tap Voice Code, type in the four-digit code you’d like to use, and select Go.

Once you’ve placed your order, you can track it by saying, “Alexa, track my order,” and Alexa will tell you the date of purchase and when they are scheduled for delivery. You can have Alexa provide automatic shipping updates through the app. Go to Settings > Notifications > Shipping notifications. Choose the notifications you want to receive. When new information is available, Alexa will notify you.

 Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

 

Amazon Offers Cloud Storage for All

By Tracey Dowdy

One of my favorite quotes from Anchorman is the line, “Boy, that escalated quickly.” That’s kind of how I feel about Amazon’s latest move in the cloud storage arena.

Last year they announced free, unlimited photo storage on Cloud Drive for members of Amazon Prime. That was a significant boost for Prime when coupled with membership perks like free two day shipping and unlimited streaming video. Yesterday, with their announcement of Unlimited Photos or Unlimited Everything for members and non-members alike, they’ve changed the landscape of cloud storage again.

Amazon certainly isn’t the first to offer cloud storage but they are the first to offer it to anyone, regardless of membership. Unlimited photo storage will still be free for Prime members, but for everyone else the service is offered at $11.99 for photos and $59.99 for all other media – video, documents, music – per year and when compared to other cloud storage providers, there’s a significant price difference.
amazon-cloud-storage
Amazon has recognized one very important fact: the average consumer has accumulated a significant amount of media over the years from photos and video to documents, all scattered across multiple devices, and most of us really have no idea how much storage we need.

“Most people have a lifetime of birthdays, vacations, holidays, and everyday moments stored across numerous devices. And, they don’t know how many gigabytes of storage they need to back all of them up…With the two new plans we are introducing today, customers don’t need to worry about storage space–they now have an affordable, secure solution to store unlimited amounts of photos, videos, movies, music, and files in one convenient place.” Josh Petersen, Director of Amazon Cloud Drive

To make the deal even sweeter and lure potential users from other cloud services, Amazon is offering a free three month trial. They’re banking on both the sweetness of the deal and the fact that frankly, most of us are not going shift again in three months once we’ve taken the time and trouble to upload in the first place. Plus, once you’ve chosen to store everything on Cloud Drive, how much more likely are you to choose Prime membership to take advantage of that free, two day shipping? And since you’re already buying books, why wouldn’t you just buy your music…and your movies…and your groceries…

But before you jump from DropBox or iCloud, stop and consider what you need. A terabyte is a lot of storage and for most of us, more than sufficient. Plus, if you’ve already invested time and money uploading to other cloud services, moving everything over is daunting and may not be worth it. On the other hand, if you’ve been debating what to do and just need to get everything tucked away to sort through and manage at some point in the future, it’s hard to argue with Amazon’s price point. And as several commentators have pointed out, at the very least Amazon’s announcement may force other cloud storage providers to examine their prices and services in order to stay competitive.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.