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Amazon's Fake Review Problem (brianbien.com)
602 points by doglet 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 324 comments

The fake review problem on Amazon is much bigger than people think. Here are my two anecdotes:

1. I got bluetooth headphones on amazon (~$65). They had great reviews, but were very disappointing. I returned them and gave 2 star review. Representative from the manufacturer contacted me and offered me a pair for free. After I got them, they asked for positive review. I refused. That manipulation technique wasn't enough for them though. They might have merged the listing with some other item. Even though the item was released this year, it has reviews from 2014.

2. When I need a cable or something similar, I go to a page like vipon.com . They offer huge discounts on some items on amazon (sometimes even -80%). They of course "suggest" leaving a review.

The more I look at reviews, the less I trust them. I see similar patterns for most products on amazon.

I've been using Fakespot when buying anything I don't trust on Amazon now. It's amazing how many highly-rated items with 300+ reviews get an F grade.

That's brilliant. Here's Fakespot page for the headphones I wrote about: https://www.fakespot.com/product/bluedio-f2-faith-active-noi...

If Fakespot is able to spot the fake reviews, Amazon could have also utilized the similar tech. What stops them?

May be the spotting is actually not that great. One way to test it is to find a popular, known-to-be good product that you have and see what the result is. The example I tried was the Instant Pot (which is rated D): https://www.fakespot.com/product/instant-pot-ip-duo60-7-in-1...

Oddly enough, the same product listing on the US site is rated as A (the above is for the Canadian site): https://www.fakespot.com/product/instant-pot-ip-duo60-7-in-1...

It's not the product which is rated, but if the reviews seem to be genuine.

Right. And the point of my test is to test fake spotting algorithm by finding product that is highly unlikely to have fake reviews.

Just did a quick check again, the Canadian instant pot reviews are now rated as F while the US ones are rated as A. Same product, both ship and sold by Amazon, the algorithm returns polar opposite result.

And a known-good product doesn't mean it won't have fake reviews. The fake reviews are there to boost sales, even for legit products.

If it's an arms race for reviews, at some point, even good products will have to pay up to keep pace.

I don't understand. If your product is already rated 4.5+ stars with thousands of reviews, what's the point of adding fake review? How does that boost sales?

Normally the first hundreds were faked, followed by occasional fake reviews to drown out dissatisfaction

Even for known-good, popular, top-selling products? The example I cited has 24k+ reviews for the US and 3.8k+ for Canada.

Seeing as the site lists 11k reviews that were removed from the page, yes.

Why waste engineers times when you're on top with hardly any competition? Google and Facebook only started caring about fake information under congressional pressure.

Fake reviews are usually positive. That is just advertising for Amazon which unlike normal advertising HIDES the fact that it is paid-for advertising. Amazon benefits when there is fake positive advertising about stuff sold through them.

Now it is possible that Amazon actually does a good job of stopping fake negative advertisement on its site. Good for them. What would stop them? I don't think there are any laws against putting more money into stopping fraud which does not benefit you than fraud which does.

Likely because it isn't actually costing them much in lost sales?

On the contrary, it probably improves their sales to have extra positive reviews scattered around.

Jeff Bezos is no idiot....he knows he can let this run until it starts to become truly scandalous, and then Amazon can have a big showy come to Jesus change of heart, and all will be forgotten. Rinse, repeat.

so, you mean, Amazon play the price whatever they want? If they hide real price and show fake price?

Fake reviews are mostly 5 star, and people reading the reviews want confirmation of their purchase intent.

Amazon has an incentive in showing positive reviews first, as this makes a sale.

Look at an Amazon listing and the 5 star review is always shown first.

Profit they make from extra sales due to fake reviews? Why do you assume fake reviews are bad for Amazon bottom line?

When a customer is burned by a bad product with excellent reviews, especially more than once, ordering from Amazon could quickly become more trouble than it's worth.

I think in that case people will fall back to buying the brands they know rather than trusting the reviews. There are plenty of other reasons people are loyal to Amazon, so bad reviews on their own, I don't think, will be enough to stop people shopping there.

Fake reviews don’t push bad products necessarily. They just make it a bit harder to get the truly best one.

Well if you buy something that is really a load of garbage. They will get more returns to process

Er. Profit?

Money. They only care about short term sales. Amazon doesn't care about how much you trust amazon... for now. Once they've lost everyone's trust then they're start to care.

As far as I know (and in my experience so far, e.g. reflected in very lenient return policy) customer trust has been their highest priority from their beginnings, which is one of the main things that made them successful in the early web in the end.

They have been risking it by their issues with counterfeit products and fake reviews only in the most recent years, but I would be surprised if they had no engineers who are thinking about ways to solve these problems.

That’s not true at all

This is a great idea. They need to hook this thing up to Glassdoor.

Just today I was trying to find some earphones on amazon and came across following seller page.


Almost all of their products have 500-600 reviews and all are 5 star, not even a single one is less than 5 stars. Moreover, most of reviews are created in November 2017 and each reviewer has left couple of 5-star reviews only for same seller's product within a week.

These fake reviews could have been detected by even a basic detection system. Not sure why Amazon has not already detected and removed them.

Money. Nothing else matters.

Yeah, fake reviews have been a problem for years and are only getting more sophisticated. The latest scam is "brushing":


"Due to the unbalanced pricing policies of the United Postal Union and subsidies from the U.S. Postal Service, it costs people in China virtually nothing to ship small packages to the U.S. That, combined with the super cheap price they pay for the junk they ship, makes brushing a quick and cost effective way to move up the sales rankings -- which means everything for e-commerce merchants."

I simply can't fathom why Western companies aren't freaking out abut this.

Everyone US seller is, sort of, and Amazon is as well. Customers still expect their stuff in 2 days, expect easy returns, and expect QC at the warehouse, and that's something China cannot replicate.

Fake reviews have been an easy exploit for sellers for a long time, and sellers will often buy from competitors just to leave verified bad reviews. It's an ugly game I don't have an answer to.

Amazon recently introduced Vine: https://www.amazon.com/gp/vine/help

I expect things in 2-3 days but realistically it never happens without paying a hefty premium.

Amazon's shipping schedule is really bad because they hold your items hostage unless you pay for Prime. It's essentially blackmail to get your item in a reasonable time frame.

As a non-Prime subscriber it usually takes 7-10 days to get an item if you use their free shipping or 5-7 days if you use the cheapest paid shipping option.

The funny thing is, in those non-Prime free shipping cases, the item is usually processed / shipped after 7-8 days and then arrives in 2-3 days.

That doesn't sound good. Luckily here in India, I have to pay $8 a year for Prime and most items get delivered within 36 hours.

I'm in the US and Prime is $99/year.

It's also 99USD/year in Argentina, but we don't get the fast shipping US/India gets. We're also a "poorer" country, I'm not sure what they base their prices on.

The post I answered was about Chinese sellers. A good US-based 3rd party seller will ship ASAP and use USPS flat rate. Amazon is much more than Amazon warehouses and Prime.

It's not recent, Vine has been around for years.

While it's a good program, there are millions of items, unlikely to have them all covered by Vine users. They would have to extend the program greatly for this to be an effective counter.

Identity is the only solution.

Receiving an empty parcel looks like an opening scene from a horror movie.

Huh. I've never really had an issue because I chalked it up more to people buying cheap crap and expecting it to be good. But $65 for a pair of headphones isn't exactly cheap. Was it a familiar brand but maybe a counterfeit? Or was it a brand you've never heard of, but the price is justified by very positive reviews? I'm curious.

Headphones seem to be a very strange category in general. You can get exceptional good value for money if you know what to buy and on the other hand pay a lot for utter crap.

My secret weapon for headphones is to buy pro audio/studio headphones. Their market just won't let them get away with gimmicks.

If you want closed back (recommended for office listening - keeps noise in an out) get AKG k550/k553 (negligibly different editions of the same thing)

If you want open back (scary accurate but bleeds sound like crazy) get a pair of Grados, the lower end ones like the 65 will do fine. I say this with love, but those headphones ruined some records for me. You can tell where they cut vocal takes on major label records because the noise floor drops. Crazy stuff.

Listening is extremely subjective though. Headphone types can be better / worse for certain listening habits (there are people out there who don't think great bass makes great music, folks), and for different ears. Music taste itself is extremely subjective. Best thing is still to get to a trusted hifi store nearby with your own, known music in best quality and your current best headphone model and test through candidate models yourself. (Admittedly, I'd still read some reviews before investing a few hundred dollars into headphones.)

> Headphone types can be better / worse for certain listening habits

No they can't. Loudspeakers (of all kinds) can either faithfully convert electrical signals into the vibrations they represent, or they can't. Equalizer presets can be better / worse for certain listening habits. There is no reason, when even a $5 MP3 player has EQ presets, that headphones shouldn't be aiming for a flat frequency-response curve.

Now, admittedly, there might be some preference axis between being able to faithfully replicate high amplitude signals, vs. having low impedance and therefore being kinder to the batteries of portable devices (and/or not requiring an extra in-line portable headphone amp.) But other than that one distinction, headphones can really only be "better" or "worse" at doing their one job.

For loudspeakers it's more complicated than a simple flat on-axis response; the dispersion into the room is critically important. Which in turn means that a flat frequency response curve is the wrong target for headphones designed to mimic good speakers, because a flat loudspeaker is not flat when measured at the ear, which is where headphone drivers are located.

Harman has done some really interesting research on this - https://www.innerfidelity.com/content/headphone-target-respo...

Good point, but I do wonder—is "full fidelity" really best defined as matching the sound profile of good speakers? Or is it better defined by e.g. whatever the sound engineer was hearing on their studio monitors when they finished the mastering process?

That is: in most digital artistic media, the goal of the reproduction process is to faithfully carry across the art (and engineering) that "went in" on the other side. Listeners can tweak to their preference from there, but the baseline should be to replicate the work as the artist experiences it, rather than as the artist expects their audience to experience it. (An analogy: the "default", pre-choice-of-audience way to reproduce a painting shouldn't involve a frame and gallery wall, but rather should involve the painting standing alone as a canvas on an easel in a room in the same lighting conditions it was painted in.)

That is: in most digital artistic media, the goal of the reproduction process is to faithfully carry across the art (and engineering) that "went in" on the other side

I can't agree with this. I don't think it's right at all. Art is targeted at a broad band of senses, from aesthetic through sensory to emotional. You're hung up on the narrow band of sensory reproduction, but that isn't what's most important to actual humans.

Take an example: some electro house track that person A might have heard on a night out, where they had a really good time. They would have heard it in the middle of a crowd (dampening a significant chunk of the sound), probably overly loud, probably with the bass pumped up.

If person A later listens to that track on studio headphones focused on faithfully carrying across engineering and "art", they'll be hearing the mechanics of the music and how it was constructed, but it will be subjectively a poorer reproduction of the remembered moment and experience. They'd actually be better off listening on much lower quality headphones that had boosted bass and muddy reproduction that let different frequencies intermingle, to make sure it doesn't sound spare and separated out like high quality headphones tend to.

Another example: person B might have been to a symphony or opera. They'll have a much happier time with high quality headphones separating out each instrument, appreciating the individuals even as they form the symphony.


An analogy: the "default", pre-choice-of-audience way to reproduce a painting shouldn't involve a frame and gallery wall, but rather should involve the painting standing alone as a canvas on an easel in a room in the same lighting conditions it was painted in

I think you're nuts! There's multiple frames to view a piece of visual art; from the artist's perspective, they may have designed the piece for a specific location, so you're better off if it's shown that way. It may have been designed to be contextualized (e.g. in a triptych, or as ironic contrast with its original commission). But the passage of time also contextualizes art; art can become meaningful not for its intrinsic artistry or aesthetic, but because of the narrative around the piece, or the artist, or the city / country at the time. A piece of art might be interesting only because e.g. it was once stolen by a very interesting person and got into the news that way; it might not have anything to do with the artifact as a thing-in-itself.

And I hasten to add that that doesn't mean it's bad art. Art is about provoking broad band reaction in the viewer. In order to do that, it needs to trigger the viewer's pattern matching neurobiology relating to different aspects of their lived experience. That's inherently contextual, both on the subject side and on the object side. There's no escaping context.

There is no reason, when even a $5 MP3 player has EQ presets, that headphones shouldn't be aiming for a flat frequency-response curve.

Sure there is. The market might prefer a baked-in EQ preset. In fact, different subsets of the market may prefer different presets. And that brings it back to the grandparent's point. The customer is always right; even when they're technically wrong, their preferences are what count.

My current earbud benchmark is the Panasonic ErgoFit line. [1]

To be fair, I don't use an external DAC or source high quality sound on the road.

But for $10 and tolerable, good enough for travel.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00E4LGVUO/

Can confirm - for everyday in-ears, these Panasonic in-ears are indeed good and durable.

Cheap but surprisingly good end: Superlux HD668B (20-40$, as they got popular you may need to watch out for counterfeits). IMHO they are on par with some popular 200$ - 300$ Beyerdynamic / Sennheiser / AKG models. You may want to follow one of the online guides to replace the ear cup plastic with velour.

Fakespot: A (90%)

Expensive end: AudioQuest Nighthawk, 1st model. Their sound is unique and "purist audiophiles" may not like it, but they work pretty well with my listening habits; the experience has been pure joy so far and they are very comfortable.

Fakespot: A (90%)

Listening habits: Metal (symphonic-, power-, progressive-, i.e. complex and with classical music elements; e.g. Blind Guardian) and some Depeche Mode

I swwear by Creative EP-630: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002EL4MXY

I don't even bother with any other earbuds.

I use the same. After trying many options, is the one that fits the best.

Happens all the time. Last few times I've purchased electronics on Amazon that have been relatively recently listed (i.e 20 reviews or less), I've made a point of looking at the reviews.

Click on first reviewer's name, and that reviewer has just happened to review 5 items all on the same day, and those are the only 5 items they have ever reviewed. And all 5 items are completely random (electronics, bed linen, garden equipment, clothing, etc). Rinse and repeat with second, third, fourth reviewer and a similar pattern arises.

Majority of recently listed electronic items that I've been looking to purchase follow the same pattern.

You just described my reviewing behavior, and mine are legitimate reviews. I buy a variety of products. My purchase history is listed in my account, and every once in a while I go and review a bunch of them at the same time, in reverse order of purchase because that's the order in which they appear.

The brand is Bluedio. They have pretty good reviews considering the price. I have used Xiaomi before and was amazed by quality/price. I was hoping Bluedio, which is another Chinese brand would be also good. I was wrong.

EDIT: Here's the fake review analysis for the headphones: https://www.fakespot.com/product/bluedio-f2-faith-active-noi...


Sorry to be a bit of an asshole.

Do not buy Chinese crap. It's a lottery.

My Sennheisers (made of plastic BTW) have been in use since 2014. My previous Sennheisers broke (just the headband) after a couple of years.

Bought $30 Taiwanese headphones, good Amazon reviews, but the headband is too small. And the microphonics is terrible. Sigh.

Recently bought boots, Made in China. Size is about 1.5 units off.

For a certain class of goods and for reasonable price points, you do get what you pay for.

Its a lottery you can throw with research.

Say you want bookshelf speakers. Going with the budget pick I might get Pioneer SP-BS22-LRs, but they're around 4500RMB here in China. Other reputable brands come in around 10000RMB, which is so far outside my budget its not even funny. But most of these speakers are made in China anyways, so you start sleuthing. K, i find a post on an Audiophile forum that tells me that HiVi(/Swan) makes the drivers for most upscale Audio equipment. Let's check what HiVi has. Ahh, they've got a bloody gorgeous pair of speakers for 1699RMB[0], and a passable one for 699RMB, and an official Taobao store. And they'll do.

Boots I would not buy from China, in China, you can return them and test.

For budget headphones, Senneheiser is what I get in Germany, Tascam if you're in the US, JVC for Asia. Don't know any Chinese brands of note there.

For smartphones Xiaomi is blowing it out of the water right now. Their Redmi(红米) line is incredible value. Then there's Huawei, Meizu, OPPO, Honor, and whatever Hammer(Chuizi) is.


>> Do not buy Chinese crap. It's a lottery.

Most of the problematic products as they relate to reviews on Amazon are Chinese products. When I used to do incentivized reviews, all but one single company who approached me for a product review (this does not include eBook authors) was not Chinese.

>> For a certain class of goods and for reasonable price points, you do get what you pay for.

This is 100% true, but I find a lot of Chinese products punched above their weight. During my time reviewing, I turned down the cheap sketchy products and focused mainly on stuff that I wanted that looked like they were well made. And you know what, a lot of the products I got were actually fantastic relative to their selling price.

That's true. Buying Chinese electronics is a lottery (usually). I would, however, recommend some Xiaomi products. They are really excellent considering the price.

BTW I actually ended up buying Sennheiser headphones after I returned the crappy ones.

Well the actual driver inside should last you a lifetime, the plasticky headband on the other hand...


Also related:

The Sennheisers branded ear pads or Brainwavz (IIRC) ear pads are a bit expensive ($20+).

You can get generic "memory" foam ones on AliExpress for $4.

It's not actually memory foam and they might send you the wrong type, and it's a tight fit (just remember to breathe !?) but they work.

I bought a Bang & Olufsen Bluetooth speaker this year. It broke after a month. It was just sitting on a table. I've also bought some no-name Chinese crap Bluetooth earbuds that have never failed. All of this is really anecdotal, and it's a complete lottery.

> My previous Sennheisers broke (just the headband) after a couple of years

Let me guess, HD280 Pro? It seems they've fixed that for HD380s.

right? I have a HD280 from ~12 years ago? the headband started to disintegrate maybe 5 years ago but it's still quite usable at home and the sound and comfort is still as wonderful. bought a 2nd pair maybe 5+ years ago when it was discounted at literally half-price, so that's the one that gets taken outside on field-trips.

Joining this bandwagon. The headband on mine just sort of started to disintegrate into a weird sticky mess after 2-3 years. Then someone pulled them open too hard and cracked the plastic. Mine are from 2004, still working perfectly, but the whole headband area is now pretty much duct tape and glue.

Duct tape and glue?

I got angry, took my drill, a piece of metal, couple of screws and connected the whole thing Mad Max style. Yes, they were quite uncomfortable.

And you couldn't really wear them in public too.


And yes hd380s seem to have longer lasting headband than the hd280s.

I have a pair of HD450 from ~1990 and they are still going strong, I have replaced the cusions though.

For Bluetooth headphones, I just blindly get whatever Sony has at my budget. It has worked well for me till now.

I've never heard a Sony audio product that actually sounded bad, and I've owned a lot of them, including earbuds, headphones, MP3 players, cassette players, audio systems, Blu-ray, SACD and MiniDisc ;-)

They haven't all been the best sounding, or even the best value, but they've all had decent sound quality. Some of them have had exceptional sound quality.

I have to agree. I owned several Sony audio products and listened to many (earbuds, amps and portable players) and they always sounded good for the money. I especially like the way their portable players sound, they seem to have really nice amps.

(Darn, had to create an account to post this comment)

Yeah, where I’m reading online reviews and sold statistics, I always have to mentally normalize for the fact that most people just buy the cheapest item.

I wish sites like Amazon had a feature such as “people who buy similar quality items to you, also bought this...”

>> $65 for a pair of headphones isn't exactly cheap

For a headphone geek such as myself it is ;)

I haven't used them for a couple of years, but https://www.monoprice.com used to be really cheap for quality cables and similar stuff.

That's true. But with a coupon I could get a cable for ~$2 and prime shipping.

Here is an example of ~$65 item merged with others https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B076RS1WRZ/ref=oh_aui_deta... – a lot of five-star reviews (marked as verified), but very bad quality.

Fakespot: Our engine has profiled the reviewer patterns and has determined that there is high deception involved.

D - Our analysis detected 42.1% low quality reviews


Vipon looks like an interesting site. Do you know if they have a Twitter listing their deals? I don't have an iOS device (which seems to be the only place that they have an app for). A Twitter account would be a perfect in between.

Incidentally, I started a deals & promos list of accounts on Twitter that provide the latest sales on a variety of sites. Feel free to check it out. I have no affiliation with any of the companies listed (Well, I have an Amazon associates account - but it wouldn't benefit me here, since it's other accounts posting their affiliate links)

I find @kinjadeals to have a lot of good deals, but unless it's name brand stuff, it often breaks or wears down after a few months.

Check out Deals and Discounts by @pogue25: https://twitter.com/pogue25/lists/deals-and-discounts?s=09

> When I need a cable or something similar,

I resorted to buy only Amazon Basic cables for the PC/monitor/TV and Anker cables/charger for the mobile phones. It is not the cheapest option but you still get high quality for a low price and you don't have to deal with any shady shops.

Eh. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00FA4Y7N2/ref=oh_aui_sear...

I bought that 3 years ago. I think mine is doing okay but you can tell from the reviews that it wasn't a quality cable. I doubt Amazon has really up'd their game since then.

Doesn't the fact that this this product (and presumably Amazon Basics stuff generally) is well-described by its reviews refute the whole point of the linked article and... support the grandparent point that you should stick with them where possible?

Amazon Basic makes quality stuff, and after I started buying Anker I fell in love with them.

Monoprice also sells through Amazon and most, if not all, of their items qualify for Prime (something like 1000' cable spools might not qualify, but the everyday consumer stuff generally does). Never had a problem with any of their wires.

I was once greatly disappointed by an item and left a very, very detailed review which reported the exact reasons for my dissatisfaction and all the various tests I made of the product that led me to my conclusion.

All my effort was for nothing. The vendor just delisted that item and re-listed it again, so no one would even read my review unless they bothered to read reviews for a delisted product.

I guess I could have re-posted my review in the new listing, but it was too much trouble, so I never bothered to do so.

> offered me a pair for free. After I got them, they asked for positive review. I refused.

So they were "very disappointing", but not "very disappointing" enough to refuse a free pair, at their expense?

> That manipulation technique

Perhaps, since you were happy to accept the headphones, they believed your original negative review was not sincere, but itself a manipulation technique to get a freebie or special offer in return for a more positive review. (Which I suspect is not unheard-of for some buyers on Amazon.)

To be clear: Although I don't know you I don't believe that is what you did (most people don't do that), what I mean is the company may be used to some people trying that kind of thing, and accepting the product for free may be a hint that you're willing to do what they asked.

However, what kind of "positive review" did they want? A review where you pretend not to be disappointed, or simply an update to your review stating something like: "while I don't believe these are worth $65, and returned them, I can't fault the customer service in trying to make up for my disappointment"?

Because I don't see anything at all wrong with the latter; and it's certainly more reasonable than leaving a negative review of a product which you were happy to accept at the 'right price'.

I do not consider buying positive reviews with free items an ethical marketing strategy: it deceives people expecting unaffiliated opinions there...

Why should anyone take part in this?

If a company decides to give away free items, and gets nothing in reply that's their problem... I am happy when people do not sell their kidney for pennies: and as a single costumer you usually don't have the power to fight back large corporations: then sometimes the most convenient reaction is to keep both the free gifts and your kidney ;) And if many people do this, it may eventually get them out from business, win-win

edit: Thinking over, I partly agree with the previous comment. If they expect you to update your review, honesty may be the most ethical, so e.g. one can start it with: "They have sent me a free item after I returned mine and gave them a 2 star review..." ;)

Actually, I'm happy for every person who accepts such a freebie but doens't let themselves be bribed. They disincentivise such manipulative behaviour.

> I do not consider buying positive reviews with free items an ethical marketing strategy: it deceives people expecting unaffiliated opinions there...

> Why should anyone take part in this?

Where did I say buying positive reviews was an ethical marketing strategy or that people should take part in it? I don't think that and I didn't say anything even remotely like it in the post you're replying to.

> So they were "very disappointing", but not "very disappointing" enough to refuse a free pair, at their expense?

They said that the pair I got and returned was defective and "want to make things right" by sending me another, free pair.

So looks like this product is now marked #1 New Release by Amazon:


F rating on fakespot, and 1500 visibly fake 5-star reviews. Innocent customers have already started falling in trap and you can notice that from recently created 1 star reviews. How many customers will be burned before the overall rating will go down due to real reviews?

Wow. Thanks for #2. Of course now I'm going to be using that website all the time for the junk items I buy. Fantastic.

Frankly, those don't bother me because nobody will write a decent review just because they were prodded a bit. It makes the average useless, of course, but you can still read them.

Paid reviews from professionals are more dangerous. I just have to hope the companies' greed prevents them from paying enough for a good review.

I bet you received a counterfeit item and you did not realize this. This post suggests that you may be suffering a textbook example of confirmation bias [1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias

Amazon is starting to feel more and more like eBay. The same product sold by multiple vendors under different names, questionable reviews, clearly fraudulent sellers and so on.

I used to love Amazon but now when I look for something I dread to do so on Amazon because I don't feel I can trust anything there.

EBay started at the opposite end of the spectrum, but they converged to the same problem.

Amazon "I'm buying from a reputable company, so I can trust that the seller is accurately representing the item." turned to "I thought I was buying from an established company, but instead I'm buying from a questionable person that is using Amazon as a level of obfuscation. They are probably hiding something, so I don't trust them."

EBay "I'm buying from a random person that I don't trust and may be misrepresenting the item, but it looks like they've described all the problems and got the same use from the item as I would like to get, so I'm comfortable with taking a chance." turned to "I thought I was buying from a random person, but instead I'm buying from a questionable company that is using Ebay as a level of obfuscation. They are probably hiding something, so I don't trust them."

I wish that Amazon could split the market place off. I disliked it from the first day they introduced it. I want to buy from Amazon not some company I've never heard of.

It's if course never gonna happen. It's too convenient for Amazon and most users probably don't even understand that they aren't buying from Amazon.

>I wish that Amazon could split the market place off.

Recently Amazon made it much harder to select sellers.

Now on some products, the page is so confusing that you don't know is it "Fullfilled by Amazon" or you are buying from someone in China.

Race to the bottom and all...

The "fulfilled by amazon" part is pretty obvious on the page, so I wouldn't say it's hard to figure out. If they have it in one of their warehouses, they'll ship it to you and will refund you directly without getting the seller involved if they did and there is a problem with it - sometimes without even verifying you returned it (this has not happened to me but I've seen it happen to another person). If you chose to buy something that isn't in one of your warehouses, your mileage will vary.

Recently I got them to refund me after showing I returned the defective item (tracking number + signed by an employee) the SAME day it was returned to the seller's location. Granted, the seller and I had a dispute (which was that the seller refused to acknowledge the device spit out a fair amount of magic smoke when powering a small charger).

Again, it's effort in and effort out. If you buy something off Amazon, make sure it's being shipped to you by Amazon!

Does filtering by prime only help? I've started only buying prime eligible items and I've seen quality increase slightly. Also, oddly enough I've found jet.com to be far superior to Amazon in both price and quality when they actually have the item I need.

If nothing else, they at least allow you to filter out non-amazon (or even non-prime fulfilled) items.

They do.

- Search - Pick a category - Select "Amazon.com" as the seller

But they mix inventory in their warehouses, so they are just as likely to ship out an item sent to them for Fulfillment by Amazon by another merchant as the are to ship an item they actually procured. I think mixed inventory is the heart of their problem.

Does that also filter out stuff sold by vendors, but fulfilled by Amazon?

It is only items sold by Amazon.com, so yes.

Still doesn't matter. For FBA stuff, they mix items in their warehouses. So even if you buy from Amazon, you can receive an item out of the FBA program. Thus you have no idea if it's the real deal or a knockoff sent from who-knows.

edit: That wasn't clear. Try two: Inventory submitted by FBA vendors is commingled with Amazon inventory in Amazon's warehouses. When you, a sucker, buys it, you have zero control over whether the widget you get was purchased by Amazon from the manufacturer or sent to Amazon by Billy Bob's Sellin' Totally Not Fake Shit Shack, which definitely got it from the manufacturer, not the bottom price on Alibaba. This is true even if you buy from Amazon and not an FBA vendor.

Sometimes. IME it seems kind of random as to when you can filter by seller and when you can't.

You can fairly consistently filter by Prime/non-Prime, but that's not the same (that filters down to things fulfilled by Amazon, but not just sold by Amazon).

> It's if course never gonna happen. It's too convenient for Amazon and most users probably don't even understand that they aren't buying from Amazon.

Out of curiosity, why do you assume people don't realize they aren't buying from Amazon?

I have had to explain this to my dad multiple times before he fully understood and I consider him to be a smart person. I have no idea how this applies to the general population, but they do not make it that obvious if you are not paying attention. Especially the other sellers that participate in prime shipping.

I try reasonably hard to only by ships from and sold by amazon, but even I occasionally mess up and end up getting a 3rd party seller. Fortunately I've not been burned, yet.

The problem with "ships from and sold by" is that it doesn't address one of Amazon's other big problems, counterfeit items commingled in their inventory. Have a shipping container full of good quality counterfeit XYZ? Ship it to Amazon to sell, it'll get mixed in with the same UPC from everyone else including Amazon itself and the counterfeits will never be traced back to you.

One would think Amazon could trace it back if they tried hard enough, but we can't assume they would do that. After all their margins on commingled items are probably better than when they buy the items themselves.

Why would people think they're not buying from Amazon when they're on the Amazon web site and their credit card gets billed to Amazon?

(Can't remember, but do the parcels come in Amazon packaging too?)

> Why would people think they're not buying from Amazon when they're on the Amazon web site and their credit card gets billed to Amazon?

Because Amazon tells them when they're looking at the item that it's sold by a third party? And then again when they're checking out. And the items sold by third parties include an invoice and receipt from the third party? It's not a difficult technical issue - it only requires basic reading comprehension, which I'd expect most people using Amazon to posses.

Obviously everybody commenting here has figured out what's going on, and most people I've talked to about it (technical and non-technical) have also figured it out, so I just can't see it as Amazon tricking everybody.

My assumption is that most people buying from Amazon do know about and understand third party sellers, but aren't bothered by them enough to do anything.

I think most people assume that there is some level of quality control of third party suppliers.

> it only requires basic reading comprehension, which I'd expect most people using Amazon to posses.

This is your problem. Most people don't have basic reading comprehension when they're using computers, even less so when they're not expecting to be scammed. This is well known in UI and IT support circles. They don't notice details, they don't read the error messages, they don't read the fine print. On Amazon, they just want to get their thing and move on.

Mostly yes

Mostly because it happened to me multiple times to buy something off Amazon, and later realize it was a different vendor when I tried to return stuff and the conditions are different.

Whenever I tell anyone "I sell on Amazon," they are really confused and say "what? How can you, Joe Random, sell on Amazon?" When I try to explain it's a marketplace "like eBay," where anyone can sell things on, they get confused and can't understand.

Even if some people understood "some inventory comes from different places," the vast majority of retail operations vet their sources and have quality control. So it's easy to understand why people would assume it's not different from Target selling inventory provided by multiple distributors.

I've had to explain this to several non-technical people. Amazon is trading their hard earned trust away.

Same here. I used to buy everything off of Amazon, but now I have to scrape the Internet for reviews to make sure that I can trust the thing I'm buying is actually going to be of good quality.

Yeah the fake reviews are bad for business. I'm buying much less because I know knock off Chinese white label products are being marked up 5~7x the wholesale price from Alibaba.

I don't like being used as an arbitrage opportunity. I think that if unaddressed it could harm Amazon in the long run.

Validating authentic and genuine reviews is still a very much under-developed solution, still relying on an equally weighted consensus when it's overwhelmingly skewed to positive bias (fake reviews up the average rating).

I now read the bad reviews very carefully. they are often always sandwiched or quickly buried by broken english reviews.

I can't remember how many times I bought a 4.8 star item and realized it was from Alibaba with just a different logo. I definitely won't be needing Amazon Prime anymore.......

but where else will I take out my shopping binge desires?

Why not just shop directly with Alibaba/aliexpress then, skip the big markup :D

I do. But it doesn't solve the whole "Is this good or crap?" problem.

Generally on Alibaba, you have to know what a "reasonable" price is and expect that "acceptable" means you may have to order something 3 different times. I seem to have a miss rate of about 20-30%--so most of the time I get what I want, but very occasionally I get a bad roll of the dice and have to order 3 times.

Because you need to buy wholesale quantities and it's still not the brand name product you want.

AliExpress is consumer focused; you can buy single units there.

I had this realization the other day.

I was buying something that's currently out of stock most places.

I looked on Amazon, saw some "3rd party" sellers that said they would have it on stock various dates about 1 week in the future, and I didn't believe them.

Some sellers had hundreds of positive reviews, others had only a few, most were an "appropriate" price (not to high or low), and all of them had the prime designation, but I still didn't believe them.

Amazon has lost my trust here, completely. And I don't know if they will be able to get it back. I just can't trust that they will get me what I bought in a reasonable time frame.

I got it from a previous years unheard of (by me) retailer online. Reviews of the company elsewhere on the internet seemed trustworthy, and I took a leap on them, and it paid off.

I trusted an unknown website more than I trusted Amazon.

> I looked on Amazon, saw some "3rd party" sellers that said they would have it on stock various dates about 1 week in the future, and I didn't believe them.

They're planning to drop ship it when you order it. Only then will they realize it's out of stock (or they'll wait weeks for it from China).

A number of times I've had a reseller dropship from walmart.com or target.com for a few dollars of arbitrage.

IIRC, when my listing says "back in stock on x day" it's caused by Amazon moving my inventory between wearhouses. I don't know if you can manually mark your listings like that though.

Last year I bought an SD Card that turned out to be fake. There wasn't a straightforward return option for this item so I sent them an e-mail with a title "I this eBay? Because you go to eBay to buy fake SD Cards". Got a refund but I'm not going to buy anything from Amazon that is known to have this problem.

I just checked the item, still sold with solid 4.5 stars and occasional 1star reviews with pictures documenting that they also got a fake one.

eBay product reviews (not vendor reviews) are actually pretty good. Have you looked? They report fake/defective stuff in them.

I don't trust them because I don't think anybody at eBay is checking whether the product being sold right now is the same the review was for.

That's a given because vendors list whatever they want. However, if they list wrong, that's a SNAD case waiting to happen.

Often the item will look the same but on the inside it's different so it will be hard to file a case.

The vendor could still be sending fakes, and you wouldn't know because the remediation process involves removing negative reviews.

Amazon is Walmart on the web.

That's what it used to be. Now it's ebay + walmart.

Well the situation does seem quite bad when you see people who leave fake reviews become brazen enough to actually advertise their services on Amazon itself [1]. I reported this review about 10 days ago and it's still up. The email address provided appears on hundreds of product listings [2]. When they can't even filter out nonsense like this I can only assume they put zero effort into tackling fake reviews.

[1] https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/customer-reviews/R7J38CTD1MNT0

[2] https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=site:amazon.co.uk+sohant85...

...this is sad in the instance you describe because the actual seller did not request that 'advert for reviews' and it now marks their product as 'fake'. Yet the actual seller is legit and doing a great job according to 'fakespot'. Sample listing:


Looks like someone at Amazon at least reads HN, it's dead now.

Nice investigative work there.

Holy smokes!

Here's my anecdote: my wife is an author on Amazon and personally knows most of the people who review her books. FakeSpot gave her most popular book an F grade because people were "suspiciously positive".

Most people leaving reviews only leave reviews for things they absolutely love, so saying that it's "suspiciously positive" is not an indicator of it being fake.

In her case, she knows these people personally and they're not fake scripts. Yet FakeSpot, who OP holds up as doing the great job that Amazon is not, is completely wrong.

tldr; spotting fake reviews is harder than it seems apparently.

EDIT: the other thing is that she has lost quite a bit of legitimate reviews from Amazon deleting them. Amazon is actually doing more than the end user sees about this problem.

EDIT 2: Another thing Amazon completely ignores are reviewers who get an early copy of the product in exchange for an honest review. This is how a lot of people kickstart reviews on their products and Amazon completely ignores that valid use case. In fact, they hurt it because they don't mark those reviews as "Verified Purchase" since the reviewer got the product outside of the Amazon channels. They need to come up with a system for this.

> my wife is an author on Amazon and personally knows most of the people who review her books.

So your wife has people she knows leave positive reviews in order to bump her book's review score and you're upset that Fakespot gave it an F due to them being non-organic reviews?

As a consumer it sounds like Fakespot is doing a great job, and exactly what it states on the tin. What your wife is doing is at best dishonest and I'm glad they're exposed as sham reviews. Hopefully these people are putting a disclaimer in the reviews stating the conflict but I highly doubt it.

> Yet FakeSpot, who OP holds up as doing the great job that Amazon is not, is completely wrong.

Except according to your own anecdote they were completely right?

My wife though not an author is online friends with more than I even want to think about. In some communities there is a LOT of interaction and loyalty between the authors and fans and the authors are quite active on social media. In addition, for a lot of more niche books (e.g. What 50 Shades of Gray would have remained had it not gone viral) the total number of books sold may be surprisingly small. A lot of those small publisher or self published authors are also the people that 5-10 years ago were posting their writings on community discussion sites (e.g. Bruce Bretthauer's Families military SF series).

So, when an author who's been writing a serial on a discussion board finishes and publishes it, there's a preexisting community of folks who have been reading it all along and are likely to purchase it.

Since some folks are still looking at this, I'll note that a successful SF book from a major publisher may only sell 30-40k copies over its lifespan. I believe it's Prime Palaver #6 where Eric Flint discusses some of this in relation to Baen's Free Library.

With numbers like that, it's not hard to believe that a little-known author may only sell a few thousand copies, many of them to dedicated followers.

See my second edit. I didn't explain it well.

She comes to get to know her best fans after they become fans. They leave honest reviews on their own accord.

This is NOT her asking for random friends and family to leave a positive review. I wasn't clear before.

I'll compare this to Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, authors of the Liaden universe. It's classic space opera and for years was put out by a small publisher. They had a very dedicated and vocal set of fans but didn't get much traction in the broader SF community for quite some time.

What's funny about that particular link is related to my comment about online serials. After their publisher went under they did the original version of Fledgling as a donation based serial on their web site, and I bet a bunch of the oldest reviews for it are from people who donated for it then bought the hardcover when they signed with Baen and it was re-edited and published.

Those would be the loyal readers who go to authors' websites looking for news and new releases.

I would also call this dishonesty, but I wouldn't be too hard on someone for this. Asking someone to not do this is like asking someone to do honest advertisements. It's asking someone to uphold an ethical standard that the majority neglects.

A little bit of moderated moral pushback has its place, but I think the main solution at societal-scale must be structural.

I actually agree, I'd be lying if I wouldn't leave a positive review if my spouse or friend wrote a book. Problem is the person above said "Yet FakeSpot [...] is completely wrong." and criticized Fakespot for pointing out the problematic reviews.

They say that everyone is a hero in their own story, and I think that applies here, you have good personal motivations (help a friend/spouse/family, etc) but ultimately what you're doing is no different from the consumer's perspective than the people that do this stuff professionally. It is just as immoral/misleading/dishonest.

They get upset with a service (Fakespot) which points out the bad behavior because it contrasts with their moral motivations for doing so. I think they need to re-examine right and wrong in this situation, Fakespot may not be the bad guy here.

I mean, I'm just suspicious. Fakespot seems to say the reviews are dishonest, fake, overly positive for.. well, a lot of things, including my favorite pair of headphones.

They're positive because the headphones are utterly fantastic. They beat the crap out of the better-reviewed (on Amazon) Bose version. Which Fakespot gives a better grade to.

Got curious. Could you share the brand and model? Thanks.

Friends & family reviews do break the Amazon TOS, but Amazon has limited means available to detect it. Authors get more leeway for giving out free review copies than other categories do now.

So your wife has people she knows

Not necessarily. See my comment sibling to GP.

> Not necessarily.

They said "she knows these people personally" and I mirrored it as "so your wife has people she knows," so what does "not necessarily" refer to here exactly?

The has part is what I mean. As I said elsewhere, friends want to do this, no solicitation required. I'm sure the author is saddened that this got her in trouble.

So your key take-away and complaint with my post is that they volunteer to bump her book's reviews instead of being expressly asked? I really don't see what difference that makes.

Fakespot was being criticized above because the person claims they misjudged his wife's book reviews while also revealing that his wife was conducting the very behavior Fakespot is designed to detect. Whether the biased reviewers volunteer or were asked is completely besides the point.

Look at it from a consumer's point of view, volunteer, paid, or asked the result is the same. The reviews are at best biased and may even be fake (depending on if they actually read the book, and would have given it less than five stars under any circumstances).

His wife was conducting what behaviour? They said nothing about that at all. I think you're reading bad motives/deeds into the original description of events.

One sense implies that the author is scheming- soliciting reviews to boost her sales- and has a connotation of her agency in dishonest behavior.

The other sense is one of a natural human (but honest) response of friends excited by the celebrity status of one of their own.

I agree fully with your comment on the consumer's point of view, though. As a consumer that point's not lost on me.

See my second edit. I didn't explain it well.

She comes to get to know her best fans. They leave honest reviews on their own accord.

This is NOT her asking for random friends and family to leave a positive review. I wasn't clear before.

> In her case, she knows these people personally and they're not fake scripts

Still, their opinions aren't trustworthy to me, given they are written by people close to the author. So I could actually agree with FakeSpot on this.

> these people personally and they're not fake

I totally understand where you're coming from on this, but, you're 100% wrong here. Fakespot is looking for unbiased reviews and friend-reviews are not unbiased, what do you think the odds are that one of your wife's friends was going to leave a negative review?

Replying to sibling comments: to be fair to miles_matthias, it's hard to NOT have your friends review on Amazon etc. They all want to do it. I just checked my wife's and I recognize several friends' names in the reviews on Amazon.

OTOH, she got hosed on Goodreads by someone who admitted to not reading the book, and several people came along and validated the hosing (like a voting circle or something). This is a pretty difficult problem.

I have been using Fakespot on Amazon and pay for the subscription features to simplify my online purchasing because it is needed. From what I have seen, Fakespot will detect ANY biased reviews. So if your wife had friends read and then leave a review with an affiliation as they mention in their FAQ/About.

Do you actually think reviews from friends are objective and not grossly positively skewed?

Both situations should require full disclosure, otherwise I don't see anything wrong with the F grade assessment.

I find that reviews on books and reviews on everything else amazon sells are two completely different ballgames. I don't trust product reviews on amazon at all anymore, but I still trust book reviews to be honest 99% of the time. Books don't seem to be plagued by the same review spam as everything else on amazon.

> Most people leaving reviews only leave reviews for things they absolutely love

Hmm, I think it is quite the opposite, I'm more inclined to leave a review (warn people) when I don't like something.

Or maybe it is a cultural thing (I'm from Europe).

I don't care much about the reviews, but I care a lot about the fake / phony / not-as-described merchandise: http://seliger.com/2017/01/09/tools-continued-careful-buy-am... . I've actually changed behavior and tried harder to buy from the original maker, if possible.

That's the behavior that I would like to see Amazon encourage as a solution.

Tracking the product back to it's actual origin of manufacturer (and showing us the consumer).

Where, exactly, was the factory? The lot number and date of manufacturer? Official model and revision number?

Requiring these things will give buyers better hard data to detect and exclude middle-level-marking shenanigans as well as combat 'bait and switch' (even if not intentional) changes to product configurations sold under the same general marketing moniker.

How would you go about tracing the steps? Are there some large database of OEM factories where you can contact them in English (assuming China).

I too would love to know exactly where and who made it, how many middle-men have stepped in with their own markup to finally Amazon.

Because it's clear that Amazon doesn't give two shit about who and what gets sold, they just care about volume. Fixing reviews is not part of that strategy.

With great difficulty.

Most major brands never even touch their products. They design them and have them built by contract manufacturers. They then get sent through distributors, shippers, brokers, etc. Each of which has terribly old systems which may or may not track each individual item.

Most links in this chain are also disinterested in any third party knowing what and how many products they move, including and especially the brand itself.

I think your last paragraph is absolutely key - many players treat that information as strictly proprietary. A big reason is because oftentimes a supplier makes identical (other than the packaging) products for two different customers, one sold as generic, one name brand.

You require the data to be part of the listing, and you share that data with the consumer. It thus becomes a statement that can be enforced as part of advertising to a customer.

Counterfeits would be one thing to go after. Lying to customers would be another.

After a while 'dodgy factories' and/or sellers that lie more often than not would be able to be sorted out and removed from listings. More importantly factories and sellers could build actual solid reputations for telling the truth.

Most importantly, it would make middle-level-marketing stuff much more obvious.

I wish it we're this simple, but after working in this space I can tell you that getting that data is a Herculean task.

Wouldn't this be a classic use case for block chain technology?

Of course not. It's not a distribute problem (Amazon is centralized) it doesn't require trustlessness (Amazon trusts itself), but it is something where you want an auditable ledger. Say, an append-only database.

I wonder if Amazon isn't particulary interested in solving the problem(which happens mostly in lower end products, higher end use strong brands), since such a solution could be copied by their big competitiors, but instead they think about how to create private labels at scale ? a private label for every product category ?

Because if sucsessful, it would be a huge competitive advantage. And they do already have 34 private labels in varied areas, but i think they are still in the learning phase.

>> Tracking the product back to it's actual origin of manufacturer.

>> Where, exactly, was the factory? The lot number and date of manufacturer? Official model and revision number?

Check out Amazon Transparency:


Unfortunately all goods at Amazon are intermingled including those Amazon itself ships. The only exception is companies who specifically pay not to do so in which case you lose access to prime shipping.

Amazon seller here.

This is not strictly true, you can still have your orders shipped "prime" but not commingle.

I am much more wary about buying from Amazon than most of my peers, who easily click and buy on a whim or out of habit. I went to buy a toy at a brick and mortar, and compared the price to Amazon while there - $12.99 in the store and $27.xx at Amazon! I think they've marketed them to be the low price leaders but that's definitely not the case.

I'm also concerned about counterfeit products - I don't care as much about reviews because I'll usually have researched beforehand or already know what I want. However with brand name items, I always wonder if it's the real thing and as a result have stopped buying shoes, etc from Amazon. I also don't buy anything from Amazon that goes in my body or on my body (supplements, cosmetics/hygiene, etc). I stick with brick & mortar or the online storefront.

It's unfortunate, because Amazon is fantastic as a concept, unfortunately my trust in them does not extend to most items. I'd rather pay more and be confident in the product. I think whatever they are doing is working for them and they have no incentive to change because the vast majority of customers are not so discerning.

This is happening because people now assume Amazon's prices are the best - always. But, that is not the case. There are times where people are knowingly listing a product about market prices to catch people who are caught unaware.

Once upon a time, I bought two boxes of Ener-G. It was only later I found out I have paid 100% markup on those boxes. I felt stupid that I hadn't verified the prices on the manufacturer's site.

People also do this with drop shipping.

They'll scrape products from X and list them on Y for cost+markup then drop ship. Even if they use thin margins coupon codes and promotions from a customer rewards program do a lot of offset the occasional return that you can't pass up the line or order that happens after a price hike but before your scraping software can catch up.

If you have a discount you can use that to undercut your competition and appear high up when people sort by price. You get a X% coupon code for some product from Y then scrape Y's online store and relist it on Z for retail less X plus your margin and costs. Fraudulently purchased gift cards can also be monetized through web scraping and drop shipping.

When the cost difference is negligible I prefer to buy from drop shippers rather than have my payment info and PII sitting around in yet another database waiting to be stolen.

> $12.99 in the store and $27.xx at Amazon!

Was this from a 3rd party seller? I have seen a lot of 3rd party sellers have listings for pretty outrageous prices. I think they're either trying to catch people who don't shop around / don't know what the product is worth, or they are just not managing their pricing well. On a lot of popular products you can see an example of the latter where Amazon themselves will be selling a product for a given price, and then if you look at other offers you'll see the same thing being sold by other sellers for double or triple Amazon's price.

I don’t remember if this was the exact link as this was several weeks ago. This was the toy: https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00OYJNKJG/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?ie=...

So yeah, 3rd party. Also, seems to be a reasonable online price. I'm sure you could find stuff locally, if you can find it. But unless I can find it and also buy the same one you found for the same price, it's not really the same thing.

That’s not an accurate way to view this particular situation. I went to the store to look for a toy in a broad category (gender, age, price range). I saw this one that fulfilled my requirements, and I did a quick price check online just to compare, having little experience with this type of purchase. If I had been primarily shopping on amazon to begin with, I wouldn’t have even considered this toy due to it being out of my price range; and I would have gotten less value for the money spent. The point is more that Amazon can often have an unreasonable markup and people may not be fully cognizant of that. If they were, would their habits change?

Like I said, that may not have been the exact link. I was just showing you the product. I was doing a quick price comparison and did not investigate who was offering it at that price back then. That link shows an even higher price than I remember seeing at the time.

I don't think Amazon has marketed themselves to be low price leaders for a long time now. In fact, a lot of people around me know they pay a slight premium when shopping on Amazon, and do it nonetheless for the convenience it offers.

Amazon is saying they want to be a price leader in Australia. It's still definitely a tactic of theirs.

This has been true for years. For many categories, Amazon pricing is awful. My wife heavily comparison shops, and Target/Walmart almost always comes out on top.

During Christmas shopping, I’ve seen more than a few folks buying stuff at Toys R Us to sell on Amazon.

I've seen similarly high prices on office supplies of the sort that people would set up subscriptions for like toner. My expectation there is that someone hacked the price up in the hopes that those subscribers wouldn't notice.

Most toys sold by third parties are overpriced on Amazon in December.

December is also a great time for coupons and sales from traditional retailers (you can still order online) so you're doubly getting hosed.

The problem is massive. Most people haven't noticed yet but it's only a matter of time. Eventually everyone gets burned at least once and Amazon becomes the new ebay.

They need to get a handle on their supply chain and stop outsourcing so much of their product listings to shady third party sellers. Shady third party sellers go hand-in-hand with fake reviews. Most reputable brands don't want to get their hands dirty with that stuff. It's guys making margin on reselling that have all the skin in the game and most of the incentive to manipulate the system.

I've never gotten a fake from any brick and mortar or online merchant that sells direct. Only places I've gotten fakes and been duped by rampant fake reviews are eBay and Amazon. Once a competitor gets their shit together (I'm betting on Walmart) and has an equally convenient online store, Amazon will be the Myspace of online sales.

People have loyatly to brands but not the company that sells them. If something better comes along I'll switch immediately just like I did years ago with ebay

I've actually recently gotten a fake from Macys.com, so it seems to me that sites like Amazon and eBay are saturated with fakes, and the scammers are infiltrating supply chains in general. (They refused to accept the return, however, so I don't think the problem is that widespread, or maybe they're just not aware of the issue yet.)

This might be brick & mortar's last laugh. How do you protect against fake merchandise? Don't worry about it, customers simply won't buy the obviously incorrect items, and you can identify and deal with them when you take inventory.

What was the product, if you don't mind sharing.

Clothing item. I received a really cheap item by the same manufacturer, with a tag jammed into it identifying it as the higher-priced item.

Amazon is very aware of this, that is why they are pushing Prime like mad, selling items under their own brand, and now even buying Whole Foods to give them a physical presence (which is hilarious - for years the mantra has been brick and mortar is dead, Amazon will eat the world ... then Amazon buys a brick and mortar chain and it's genius). I could see them spinning off their whole online marketplace as a separate entity.

Social proof via reviews (of products, restaurants, anything) is a great idea if you can assume good intent. Back in the good ol' days of the Internet this seemed plausible for some reason, but now there's real money to be made and that's out the window.

Amazon and Yelp and the like may be better or worse at stemming the tide of fakery, but asking them to be better isn't going to fundamentally help. The whole idea is broken.

The whole idea isn't broken, and it can be fixed pretty cheaply. I think the most fundamental problem is that Amazon hasn't realized that they're operating one of the worlds largest search engines yet. Ditto for other companies that offer results based on finding the best product to match customers "search criteria" (whether the criteria are explicit or not).

If you know how PageRank works, how it was gamed by blackhat SEO's until Google was forced to fix it, and what Google did to fix it, then you already know how to fix product reviews. You just need to recognize that reviews are links, in the sense that a link counts as a vote of "authoritativeness." Since we also have negative reviews we can easily implement TrustRank (or an Amazony version of it) and quickly identify bad "domains" (products or vendors).

I think it could be implemented poorly in a weekend or two with full access to the complete set of review and product data.

I wonder if it will come back to a more distributed CR type of system. Also branding and maintaining the integrity of a brand.

Currently you have a bevvy of brands for China sourced goods. The brands are obviously made up without much thought. Something like "Scarvast" trekking pole. "Vargus" flashlights, "Zukil" wireless speakers. "Brikor" dehumidifiers.

And often times the same seller will have multiple "brands". This is what makes it unreliable and untrustworthy. It's like they live A/B test products on AMZ.

I highly recommend a 30 Day trial subscription on Consumer Reports (CR) online if you're looking to buy a big ticket item. You can put in your CC# & other details and get free 30 day access to CR testing of a lot of products. Then cancel before the 30 days are up. You may end up paying a little more for a top notch product, but you can be assured if CR reviewed it, you're getting what you pay for.

Maybe there's a market for verified customer reviews of popular items - even ones that aren't big ticket. Consumer Reports might grow to cover additional items and perhaps develop a browser extension for subscribers who gain access to trusted reviews.

If consumer report (or the more general, independent testing lab) is the solution, I wonder if Amazon should buy them or build their own.

A trusted source of reviews has proved itself successful with the USB-C cable example and Benson from Google verifying all of them

I do reviews for my startup, the fake reviews is a big problem. My solution has been to collect more data. I'm using twitter to collect millions of comments about web hosting companies and built a review site around it. (https://reviewsignal.com) I think writing a 'review' can be a strange behavior, listening to people talking organically and analyzing that seems more accurate. Also there's more data that way.

The sellers are not really to blame here though.

Often they are just Chinese-speaking American entrepreneurs. The problem is the lack of IP protection in China. And lack of any interest in branding and brand differentiation, hence you got "brands" that sounds like they were picked via /dev/rand. And of course everything is probably manufactured in the same 3 or 4 factories.

Lev Andropov: It's stuck, yes?

Watts: Back off! You don't know the components!

Lev Andropov: [annoyed] Components. American components, Russian Components, ALL MADE IN TAIWAN!!!

We should still be able to ask them to make a reasonable effort, which keeps the fake review economy at bay

I usually look at the 1 star reviews first and see if the complaints are user error, unreal expectations or really a poorly designed product.

I don't know that this solves the problem, since competitors can just start leaving fake negative reviews on competing products.

While that is true, if it's a low effort 1 star review, E.g. "It's crap", with no explanation of why it's crap, I ignore that. If there's a lengthy 1 star review with details, then I factor that in to "Was that one just bad, or all them are like that". I don't just look at the 1 stars, I work my way up. More details for me equal a higher weighted review. Pictures, video and stuff help too, but of course those can be faked. Lately I've been looking at audio equipment for S&Gs (Microphones, audio interfaces, phantom power injection, etc...).

This is not just Amazon’s problem. App store ratings, Reddit comments, Twitter/FB feeds, and Net Neutrality comments are all gamed. We are living in the age of human controlled bots looking to manipulate other humans through what we read.

Yeah, these are all "message passing" algorithms, like belief propagation. The whole financial system itself is another good example of this.

I hope Hacker News will be the last bastion for fake comments. At least, I have never seen bots lurking around on Hacker News.

Generally I always go to review sites first like wire cutter to see what are the best stuff, then I would see the little details, mostly what bad reviews say about it to contradict. A lot good reviews I can sniff out as fluff with a 5 star label. The bad thing is that when I see an avg of 4.5 stars with 100+ reviews, there is a slight bias inside me for this product. Amazon could do a better job to weight the avg stars.

Well, you even have to take the Wirecutter with a grain of salt. IIRC, there was some heated debate over whether they were pay to play from some standing desk co that didn't sell through Amazon (Wirecutter makes a portion of their revenue from amazon referral links).

If Amazon starts penalizing products for fake reviews then it's probably just a matter of time until that's weaponized by competitors to tank competing products. Then I imagine Amazon will have to come out with a "disavow review" tool similar to Google's disavow backlinks (to counteract targeted negative SEO).

What's to say that isn't happening now? Seen quite a lot of pseudo positive reviews that are simply advising reader that "another product is better"

It is happening now in fairly large quantities.

I've been out of the google loop for way too long... I had no idea they introduced a way to disavow backlinks. I logged in to webmaster tools for the first time in 5 years and there's a LOT of new stuff. Thanks for randomly mentioning it. Time to read up on site snippets and structured data...

I tried to buy my son a remote control car on Amazon a few weeks ago. I gave up after wading through 2 pages of 5 star reviewed products where the reviews all looked the same, all had the same structure. Many referenced "my 11 year old son", or the name of the company. This seems like something that can be weeded out using ML sentiment analysis. If too many reviews have the same structure, your posting gets demoted. If I could have found one legit looking review I would have bought that car, instead I gave up and went to The hobby store.

Nothing like the good old trusted hobby store. And yes, this repetition of phrase or structure should be a clear signal.

Fake reviews? I received a firkin fake Bose QC-35 II Headphone! Check out the fake product and read the reviews, and this listing is still active even after Amazon verified and refunded me the cost of the product.


Infact one of the reviewers did a detail comparison between the fake product and the real QC-35.

This is very different issue. Amazon, unlike eBay, has single product page for product. And multiple sellers can sell under that page. Including sellers of counterfeit. This does not make original product bad (so reviews are incorrect) - but rather seller should be reported.

Granted - that concept is very complicated for typical amazon shopper and that's how you end up with bunch of "fake" 1-star reviews under brand-names products...

That isn't the issue mentioned by OP.

There are groups that do both: buying the first batches of products and writing nice reviews, then the seller will pay for what they have done, it's a mature business these days: you hire a team to market you at Amazon by faking reviews after "real" purchases(will be compensated or rewarded under the counter afterwards). This is very hard to detect indeed.

Maybe Amazon can have some AI algorithm, that is for any newly arrived products with non-sales yet, monitoring the activities on them closely,the fake purchase and review must have some common pattern(same address, same ID, same IP,etc).

But then, why does Amazon want to do that? it will decrease its own profit.

So yes, customers will be the one got screwed up no matter what.

  But then, why does Amazon want to do that? it will decrease its own profit.
Why would policing fake reviews decrease Amazon's profits?

Presumably because positive reviews cause people to buy products, they don't necessarily blame Amazon if they turn out to be bad, nor do they return them.

>> Amazon – who has some of the world’s most advanced ML – really needs to step up its review fraud detection game.

It's not in the interests of Amazon to be on a crusade against fake reviews. Mass fake reviews are the driving force of revenues.

AMZN will always maintain the balance between public outcry and absolute minimal effort to show that they're doing something against spammers.

From my side I maintain the right to buy the product and then write "not as described" as a reason for free return for full refund with free pickup.

Quite often vendor/seller will give you refund without requiring you to return merchandise.

I don't feel like I been abused too much by fake reviews as long as I can "abuse back" with my free return.

I don't understand your argument. How do reviews drive revenues? If all fake reviews were taken down, wouldn't buy less stuff from Amazon.

Many people look at # of reviews and average review as "social proof" about the quality of a product. The reason we do this is because it can be a useful short-cut to performing an intellectually rigorous evaluation. If Amazon removes a bunch of reviews they're removing incentives that users use to buy products.

No. You’re at Amazon.com, you will make a purchase.

Reviews affect which purchase.

The incentive that matters is the sentiment or belief you should go to amazon.com in the first place. That’s what’s at risk.

Most retailers find that conversion increases alongside review count, with diminishing returns above something like 50 reviews. It's important enough that most of the largest retailers either incentivize reviews with rewards or run "seeding" programs where they send out products in exchange for reviews.

200% agreed. It drives sales and that's a certainty.

Amazon has a habit of removing reviews if they contain words like counterfeit. This is likely due to the issue of counterfeit items on Amazon and intermingling of goods between vendors including Amazon itself.

I briefly considered offering a curated review service for Amazon many years back (I know it's unethical and it was just posturing) and was not surprised to find many services already offering that.

I thought Millennials had become desensitized to all 5 star over the top, big flashy sounding reviews so a service that carefully curates reviews for top items seemed like a decent idea. Sprinkle a few 1 star reviews for the wrong item sent or a fault of Amazon, a few 4 stars raving about the product but complaining about some minor aspect irrelevant to the average buyer to make it sound authentic. Many people compare a few products and when they make a purchase, they do so feeling really proud of themselves that they picked the perfect product for the best price. The "it's too good to be true" doesn't really seem to work anymore. This honestly seems to be the case for every Amazon product these days. We'll probabzky get desensitized to this soon too and something else will come up.

That said, fake products are ridiculous and there are a few sites I've bookmarked that do a pretty decent job of spotting a fake product and I do admit it's becoming harder to differentiate lately but the too good to be true adage still stands.

I got scammed on some hdmi cables and iPhone charging cables a few months back. They all broke within a month, which I thought was weird, definitely the worst purchases I’ve made on amazon but they were top reviewed products on the front page of a search.

I just checked them on fakespot and they were both rated at 98% fake reviews. This is pretty confidence shattering for me; how do I pay $80 a year for prime if amazon is in cahoots with such obvious scams...

Reminds me of Goodhart's Law:

"When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."


When you see this start to happen to Bitcoin, that's when you sell and buy ethereum (or other secondary crypto!)

True. My team started targeting site availability since using that as a measure. Now my site uptime is four nines! About to tell them to cut it out.

See anything associated with SEO.

Amazon's solution to fake reviews is Amazon Basics, a "verified good" version of whatever you were looking for. Thus, they have little incentive to combat fake reviews for products not directly sold by them, since that bad experience, they hope, will cause you to run back to them for the product next time.

They also get to avoid being called a monopoly by selling products of various qualities and from various sellers.

Interestingly, Amazon might have a secondary payoff here: they actually get some good ground truth (honest review data) since these reviews - at least the positive ones - aren't tainted by the same incentives.

I am finding myself more and more suspicious of buying from Amazon. I have had issues with fake reviews, disclarity over the actual vendor/source of an item, particularly due to their mixed logistics system. It’s scary how many 1-Star reviews are clearly from people who’ve gotten a fake / different product than what’s listed. I am close to done with buying from Amazon.

The fake review problem is clearly bad, but if it's going to take some fancy machine learning algorithm to solve it, why not start with a simpler improvement to user reviews: Weighting the Top Rated scores so it doesn't show an item with a single 5-star review above an item with 5000 reviews and a 4.9 star average.

Amen to that. It's a solved problem in statistics, too:


Should we conclude that Amazon does not have sufficient incentive to remove these fake reviews? Surely they could, when third-party sites easily detect them...

Third-party sites are not "easily" detecting them. They have no idea what the performance of their "detection" is, in either direction (false +, false -).

One problem is getting "ground truth." I think Amazon has a pretty good idea of a lot of near-certain true positives.


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