Tag Archives: online shopping

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.

 

Subscription Box Guide 2018

By Tracey Dowdy

Do you have someone on your list that’s virtually impossible to buy for? A parent who doesn’t want or need more “stuff” because they’re planning to downsize? A child that has more toys then Tom Hanks in “Big?” A friend that eschews consumerism?

Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy – the subscription box. No matter their interest or personality, there is a multitude of great subscription boxes out there at a variety of price points. Here are some of the most popular.

The granddaddy of them all is Birchbox, who kicked off the subscription box trend back in 2010 when it offered a monthly delivery of personalized beauty samples for just $10. Once you fill out your profile, Birchbox picks five samples of both “prestige and niche” beauty products for you to try. If you decide to purchase full-size versions of your favorite products, you get $1 back in Loyalty Points for every $10 you spend in their Shop. They have several promotions right now on their original $10 a month subscription, $30 for three months, or $110 for a year.

If you have a foodie in your life, Try the World or Love With Food are great options. Try the World does just that – every month you get a selection of foods from around the world. You can choose Countries ($39/month) or Snacks ($19/month). Love with Food ships junk-free all-natural, organic or gluten-free snacks and each subscription helps fight childhood hunger. For every box shipped, they donate at least one meal to American families in need. Subscriptions start at $7.99 a month.

If you’re looking for something for the wine connoisseur in your life, Winc, California Wine Club, and Cellars Wine Club are great options. Each has you complete a taste profile that helps identify your wine preferences. You can stick to what you like or explore wines you may be unfamiliar with. Subscriptions start at $13 a bottle and up, so you can choose to be as fancy as you like.

For the pet owner on your list, there’s no end of options. Choose Bark Box, that ships you and your dog a box of toys and healthy treats for as little as $19 a month or even a WINEDOG Box a seasonally themed monthly box with wine-themed gifts for you, and a (non-alcoholic obviously) treat for your pup.  Subscriptions start at $35 a month. For the cat-lady – or gent – in your life, The KitTea Kit subscription box ships cat-themed samples and accessories every month, or choose The BUB CLUB SUB BOX, a quarterly subscription that ships exclusive premium Lil BUB items, with a portion of proceeds providing food for homeless pets. Subscriptions start at $23.

Kiwi Crates make great family gifts. Every month, you’ll receive all the supplies for creative art, science, games, and activities. Set your preferred age group – e.g. ages 0-36 months, ages 3-4, ages 5-8, etc. – choose your plan, and then sit back and anticipate activities designed by educators, makers, engineers, and rocket scientists – seriously – rocket scientists. For example, in the toddler themed box, you’ll get two to three developmentally appropriate projects, a copy of Wonder Magazine, access to Online Resources, and a Tadpole Board Book. Subscriptions start as low as $16.95 a month, shipping is free, and you can cancel any time.

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.

12 Tips for Safer Online Shopping

By Tracey Dowdy

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are right around the corner. With the prospect of fighting the crowds or waiting in line for hours only to find the item isn’t as advertised – or even worse, sold out – more and more consumers are opting to stay at home and shop online.

Whether this is your first foray into cyber shopping or you’re a seasoned veteran, these 12 tips can ensure your experience is a safe and positive one:

  • Keep your devices up to date. Whether it’s your phone, your PC, your tablet or a laptop, make sure to check frequently for software updates. Security patches are often included in the updates and letting yourself fall behind puts you and your personal information at risk.
  • Make sure you have strong passwords. Using the same password for everything may make it easy to remember but it also makes you vulnerable. Password managers like Dashlane, LastPass, or StickyPassword can help you keep track of multiple passwords and stay secure.
  • Avoid using public computers wherever possible. Typing your passwords or credit card information into a computer at the library or another public location puts you at greater risk of identity theft. Also, use a cellular network or VPN rather than Wi-Fi for an added layer of security.
  • Do your homework. If it’s a retailer you’re not familiar with, do a little research and check out previous customer reviews. There may be some bad mixed in with the good. Exclusively positive or overly enthusiastic reviews may be planted and not from actual customers.
  • Do the math. Take the time to calculate the tax and shipping on top of the quoted purchase price. It may not be a deal if the shipping costs turn out to be excessive. You should also consider the potential cost if the item needs to be returned, particularly if you’re shopping overseas. I stopped shopping at several of my favorite online retailers while living in Canada because of the extra charges if the item had to pass through Customs.
  • Look for “https://” in the browser. The “s” is the key – it indicates a secure browser. Sites may also include an image of a lock or use an icon called a trust indicator or security seal to show there is independent third party verification.
  • Stay a step ahead. Actually, stay two steps ahead by using two-step verification to add an additional layer of protection beyond login and password information.
  • Don’t store your card information on the retailer’s website. Although it is definitely more convenient to allow Amazon or The Gap to keep your card number on file, you decrease your risk of identity theft by entering it each time you make a purchase.
  • Don’t share more than necessary. Often retailers will ask for additional information for their own marketing purposes. Only complete the required fields – there’s no need to offer any unnecessary information.
  • Use payment methods with buyer protection. I prefer to use my debit card since it’s virtual cash, but many debit cards lack the buyer protection of a credit card if something goes wrong. Talk to your bank about single-use credit card numbers that are unique to each purchase. The number is tied to your original card, but a one-use number is generated for a single transaction.
  • Be especially vigilant when using mobile devices. Turn off Bluetooth; use cellular data instead of Wi-Fi; make sure you set a password, pattern or PIN lock on your smartphone; and ensure your screen locks after a short period of inactivity to protect that personal information.
  • Finally, don’t let down your guard. Let common sense be your guide: if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

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.

Search and Save with Verizon Visual 411

It’s easy to sum up the benefits of online shopping with the three C words: convenience, comparison and coupons. Convenience because we don’t have to leave the living room to check out all those great deals; comparison because online shopping tools allow us to compare prices, as well as other key variables such as shipping costs and delivery times; and coupons because, well, in the digital age no-one should have to pay full asking price for anything!

Unfortunately some online shopping tools fall short of expectations because they insist on adding another C word: complications. These can come in the form of distractions like unwanted pop-up ads or annoying ‘deals of the day’ that have nothing to do with your original search. If you want thrive in the online shopping jungle, then you don’t come between a determined shopper and her bargains!

By these measures, Verizon’s updated and improved Visual 411 search tool checks all the right boxes when it comes to on-the-go shopping and finding the best deals. Although primarily a local business and shopping guide, Visual 411 doesn’t lose sight of what we all want – and that’s a bargain! Updated at the end of last year, the app is loaded with coupons from national and local retailers and can be customized to deliver exactly the deals that you are looking for.

The easy-to-use interface retains the 9 upfront choices of the original app, although the list of categories has changed. Food & Drink is there, so is Shop & Fun but now there are separate categories for Coupons and Weather & Traffic, acknowledging that finding a deal and getting to where we want to go remain prime motivators for using these kind of tools.

But the real benefit of Visual 411 is the ability to customize it so it knows exactly what you are looking for. You can save recent searches to more conveniently access your favorite stores; you can set up alerts and notifications for deals and special offers; you can share deals and discounts with friends; and you can instantly get turn-by-turn directions to safely take you where you need to go.

If you’re not comfortable allowing the app to track your exact location, then you can search by zip code instead. Search results are presented by distance from your current location but you can also sort by name or switch to view those precious coupons.

Visual 411 makes search easy and fun but never loses sight of the ultimate goal: great products at a great price!

The Online Mom LLC receives a fee for participating in certain promotional programs for Verizon FiOS.