Amazon Paid Reviews: Against The Rules or A-OK?

May 14, 2018

Are Amazon paid reviews still a thing? The company insists that 99% of user reviews come from uncompensated shoppers. But a recent Washington Post expose implies that Amazon’s fake review fortress may be a digital Potemkin Village.

Amazon Paid Reviews: A Brief History

In the not too distant past, after acknowledging “an unhealthy ecosystem […] to supply inauthentic reviews,” Amazon banned incentivized feedback. In a matter of hours, the years of exchanging swag and sawbucks for glowing appraisals came to a close; the online retailer even filed a few “false and deceptive” advertising lawsuits against recidivist review offenders.

When news first hit, the online marketing world, which had grown increasingly dependent on incentivized reviews, panicked. Promoters clamored for a workaround and quickly developed some. Within weeks, online groups connecting sellers and reviewers — like Amazon Review Club and Amazon Reviewers Group — began to pop up on Facebook and other social media outlets.

Amazon Paid Reviews: Disadvantage Rule Followers?

But sellers adhering to Amazon’s “no incentivized reviews” rule feel left behind. After all, feedback drives the site’s traffic; reviews directly impact profits! In fact, according to the article, over half of online product searches are done on Amazon.

Tommy Noonan of ReviewMeta, a website dedicated to sniffing out phony reviews, lamented:  “These days it is very hard to sell anything on Amazon if you play fairly. If you want your product to be competitive, you have to somehow manufacture reviews.”

“It’s devastating, devastating,” echoed Mark Caldeira, an online purveyor of baby products. According to Caldeira, his main competitor started using paid reviewers, and since then, his product listings have tanked and he “just can’t keep up.”

Amazon Paid Reviews: Red Flags

Although there’s no definitive way to sniff out fake reviews, you may want to raise a red flag if you notice that:

  1. The number of reviews for a given product spikes in a short amount of time, apropos of nothing.
  2. The language in the review is repetitive and sounds like it was cut-and-pasted from a script.

Amazon says it’s serious about cracking down on paid and phony reviews, insisting:

“We know that millions of customers make informed buying decisions every day using Customer Reviews. We take the responsibility very seriously and defend the integrity of reviews by taking aggressive action to protect customers from dishonest parties who are abusing the reviews system.”

But as the Washington Post article suggests, Amazon may not be enforcing their rules efficiently. Moreover, the online retailer’s alleged failure to adequately crack down on paid reviews may be crushing law-abiding sellers between a rock and a hard place: evade the rules, risk banishment, and make money or follow the rules, get buried by Amazon’s algorithm, and lose money.

Can Online Sellers Fight Back Against Amazon Paid Reviews?

What’s a rule-abiding online seller to do!?

If you suspect a competitor is paying for incentivized reviews, report it to Amazon. Also, go the extra mile and let a service like ReviewMeta know. Sometimes, as they say, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

If a competitor is posting negative, false reviews about your products, you may have a trade libel case. To find out, consult with an attorney who works with online sellers. However, do not — we repeat, DO NOT — leave a hostile or accusatory review on competitors’ product pages. Doing so could land you in serious legal trouble!

Connect With An Online Sales and Affiliate Marketing Lawyer

Are you having an e-commerce legal issue? Whether you’re grappling with phony reviews, online sales tax, or contract negotiations, our firm is here to help and handle it. According to Super Lawyers, we’re legal “stars”; we earned the reputation by over-delivering…while keeping clients’ budgets in mind.

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