By Tracey Dowdy
If you’re an Amazon Prime customer, you’ve no doubt seen some products marketed as “Amazon’s Choice” a designation intended to convince customers to buy what Amazon is saying is “highly-rated, well-priced products.” It’s an effective strategy – according to a 2018 study. these items see a threefold increase in sales.
But are they really the “highly-rated, well-priced products” they’re promoted to be? Good question – and the answer is “No.” Some of the listings have inflated ratings and those glowing reviews have been written by customers who were promised compensation in the form of gift cards or free products by sellers in exchange for those five-star ratings.
Amazon’s official position on fake reviews or “incentified reviews” – those reviews posted for compensation without being identified as such – is against the site’s policy. Sellers who are caught violating Amazon’s rules have their accounts suspended or banned. “When a product we identify as Amazon’s Choice does not continue to meet our high bar, we immediately remove the badge.”
Unfortunately, the policy doesn’t seem to stop third-party sellers because many know exactly how to evade the website’s moderators. Some listings with reviews explicitly mentioning free products frequently slip past filters despite the fact it’s a clear violation of Amazon’s policies regarding customer reviews.
To be clear, incentivized reviews are nothing new. Buzzfeed News exposed Amazon’s Fake Review Economy in a story they broke last year. The problem that there’s a difference between incentivized and fake. When customers buy an item or service listed as Amazon’s Choice, there’s an assumption that the service is peer-reviewed and has earned its positive reviews via customer satisfaction. The truth is, the selection is determined bu an algorithm. Buzzfeed’s story led to Democratic Senators Bob Menendez and Richard Blumenthal raising concerns over Amazon’s Choice products through a letter to Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos.
In response to their letter, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, Brian Huseman, admitted that Amazon employees “do not manually review” Amazon’s Choice products, but instead, they’re chosen by an algorithm that takes into account multiple factors, such as inventory, pricing, and return rates, in addition to reviews.
He further states that products have to have a four-star or above-average rating to qualify for the label. According to Huseman, that translates to more than 2 million products automatically earning the designation every month. Huseman added that in their defense, abuse of customer reviews is “an industry-wide problem” but Amazon is the exception to the rule claiming in September that “over 99%” of reviews on the site were authentic.
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.