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Fake review factories that run on Facebook and post five-star Amazon reviews (theguardian.com)
598 points by sefrost on Oct 21, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 313 comments

Amazon is going downhill quickly. I target shoot with a compound bow as a hobby, and as a result I usually buy a set of arrows a year. In 2015 when I would search for "target arrows" on Amazon the first page results would be for legit American companies who make exceptional arrows for about $30 per set of 6. Now, and for the last 2 years if I search for "target arrows" I get pages and pages of Chinese crap arrows (I purchased several sets and returned them). The crappy ones are also selling for $30 per set but they are made out of weak aluminum and come bent up. To get the nice American made ones I have to got 10-20 pages deep or search by brand name and even than the real ones are usually on page 2 with page one featuring the same crap from China. Now, don't get me wrong, I am sure they can make quality arrows in China, but what makes it to the top of Amazon is utter crap.

I noticed this with many other products as well, but the arrows is a particularly noticeable example because it's something I regularly replace as they get beat up and destroyed (I shoot a lot).

It's really baffling to me how despite being one of the largest companies in the world and being centered around e-commerce Amazon doesn't do anything about these issues weakening their core product. I say "do nothing" not "fail to stop" because I haven't seen any evidence that Amazon does anything at all to prevent or discourage these behaviors.

I wonder if it's because they push the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mantra too far. After all, their current approach is successful so why risk changing anything? That would also explain why the website overall looks so dated in many areas.

I don't think it's baffling at all. Facebook is the largest social media company, and what do they do to try to stop all of the propaganda, troll factories and hateful things going on there? Naught. They know that they are the largest company and therefore doesn't have to do anything as long as their position stays the same. Which it seems to be doing. Yes, there are people leaving the platform but where do they go? There is no real contender, therefore Facebook will remain number 1.

On my city Startup Facebook group, I see lots of posts offering fake Facebook & Amazon review services. When I report such posts, the response I get is, the said posts doesn't violate Facbook's Community standard Guidlines.

I don't think it's completely the same thing though, this propaganda and trolling could arguably be a positive for Facebook by driving engagement. Of course there's a balance to maintain but it's not necessarily all bad. Socially and ethically it might be bad but bean-counting-wise it might not be that terrible. Facebook doesn't really care if people trust what they see on the platform as long as they generate pageviews and get ad impressions.

On the other hand I don't see how fake reviews and bootleg items do anything but hurt Amazon by making people distrust the platform. You don't want to add friction to the buying process by making people triple check that they're not getting duped.

And it's not like it's a new problem either, lack of trust was a huge issue in the early days of e-commerce, I'm sure Amazon doesn't want to return to these days where you felt like you were swimming in a sea of scams.

The problem is that before you bought stuff largely from Amazon.

Whereas now it's more akin to eBay which always suffered with scam problems (and responded by giving buyers far more power - which then resulted in buyers scamming sellers instead of the reverse).

I wish it could return to the days where you just bought stuff from Amazon - or at least make it very easy to only search for their products.

Have you tried eBay recently? I’ve bought a few things from there in the last year and found it pleasant and professional.

I have friends who work on teams in Facebook who use ML to detect and filter out “undesirable content”. It’s a difficult problem but they’re a pretty intense team (workaholics) so I wouldn’t say they spend 0 effort.

It hasn't hurt their revenues, so they have no commercial reason to do anything about it. In other words - it's a leading indicator.

> also explain why the website overall looks so dated in many areas.

As pointed out by UX experts "what's good for Amazon is not good for normal sites."


> It hasn't hurt their revenues, so they have no commercial reason to do anything about it.

That can't be the explanation. They surely must be aware of it, and surely must be looking forward in time, right?

I guess it's possible that everyone there is a moron, but it doesn't seem likely.

> They surely must be aware of it,

I know for a fact from an Amazon employee that they are aware of it. It's more that they don't have a focus on fixing it.

That seems shortsighted for such a traditionally longsighted company. If you sell tents to people who sell fruit, and don't screen the fruit for disease, and then people get sick, they will use other bazaars.

I think a major reason behind this problem is that their entire seller system to Add/Edit Amazon product listings (Amazon Seller Central) is run almost entirely as an outsourced division.

The website is entirely different (although Amazon themed/branded). It still doesn't have full mobile support. Phone support is almost non-existent. Most customer support is outsourced to foreign countries. It is a joke.

It once took me 3 months of arguing back and forth to get an erroneous $30 seller fee refunded since there was no "supervisor" to speak to and only a broken ticket system where I would received canned apologies and promises - just to have the same result over and over.

They are clearly understaffed and/or don't know what they're doing most of the time, so counterfeit, duplicate, and junk/low quality listings get through all the time.

They're betting on the regulatory force of their review system and product listing SEO, which is linked to their search algorithm. The truth is that it's easier for smaller sellers/brands who laser focus on one or a few products to outcompete bigger brands with many products, and as a consequence appear first in the search results.

The more niche a product is, the easier it is to compete. It's just hard to tell an establish brand apart from a brand that just does Amazon, if you search for something (brands) outside of your knowledge domain. Smaller private label brands can appear more professional as a result of that mentioned laser focus and having Amazon as only channel.

In my opinion it's also the fault of the bigger brands not investing enough into the optimization of their listing, they don't depend on it.

>also the fault of the bigger brands not investing enough into the optimization of their listing, they don't depend on it.

I wouldn't call it their "fault", per se. Thought experiment: If I'm a third party seller on Amazon, why should I / what do I gain by investing into the optimization of my listing if I do not depend on my Amazon listing for the majority of my revenue?

Edit. Agree with the rest of your post btw

>If I'm a third party seller on Amazon, why should I / what do I gain by investing into the optimization of my listing if I do not depend on my Amazon listing for the majority of my revenue?

Sure, you're right, that's how businesses think, and it makes sense. But the side effect is the situation that was brought up, that customers don't understand why their favorite products don't show up higher up in the list, if at all. there might be a point where it can affect a brand and their domain authority. Like Google search, the stuff that doesn't show up on the first pages is perceived as less relevant.

Sorry for this late response, just saw your reply.

A cynical explanation would be that Amazon has looked into it but have decided that it is more beneficial to promote Chinese crap over quality products, precisely because they break more often (more replacements sold) and more people buy low priced crap than high quality products that cost more (more earnings for Amazon).

It's amazing the extent that Chinese crap covers in meeting product market demands. I could see why some people will just chance it on cheap electronics like a Chinese GoPro when the real thing is already expensive and may be 4-5x the price. But what's infuriating is when obscure things like fake ear plugs and knock-off lighters get delivered to you because it's so unexpected it becomes nonsensical. Lower value discretionary things are now prevalently faked to the point that it makes you wonder why the hell would someone go through the effort of manufacturing and shipping a product that brings in such a small profit after fees and expenses unless millions of items were being sold. In the end, sellers supplying cheap crap through Amazon now have a huge market in reach, Amazon makes more money from more transactions, and customers are stuck hoping Amazon will still provide proper support and refunds for legitimate purchase issues.

The status quo seems inconsistent with their mission (stated as "earth's most customer-centric company").


Perhaps shoppers aren't the customer they have in mind?

thing is, you perceive it as a problem. it’s not. like google dumbing down email and usenet and so on, the next growth market is the folks that want the cheap shit.

I was recently researching car dashcams. On Amazon the top brand has thousands of reviews but the most critical one accuses the seller of offering free mounts in exchange for 5* reviews. The second most prominent one is featured heavily in a deal aggregator website which I knew about from before.

I decided to do my research outside of Amazon. The most reliable brand which I chose based on independent review sites and user forums does not actually appear on first 10 pages of Amazon search results. I bought it anyways, and it is so good value for money that I have ordered another one. Safe to say I don't trust Amazon recommendations at all.

One way to overcome this sort by "Most reviews" which normally Amazon hides (I think they do it to give chance to sell new brands/products more). You have more chance to find the product you want and more trustful if it had 10K reviews instead of 10 reviews. I wrote about how to do it. Full disclosure, I am the author of free web app tool on the article. https://medium.com/@ceyhunkazel/amazon-search-hack-eliminate...

I've noticed that sellers have been gaming this metric as well. I was recently shopping for a phone case and other phone accessories. What I found is that sellers are re-purposing SKUs from other highly rated products. I found a ~4.5+ star product with thousands of reviews but saw that most of the reviews were for a completely different item that is no longer being sold. So they'll take a highly rated product, put a different item in its place.

I heard that issue recently, merchants exploits this variant issue and Amazon does not provide a way differentiate variant comments.

Would you mind adding an option to change amazon country?


In Europe each country (with an Amazon presence ofc) has its own website, each with its own stock and sellers. Buying from the US website is often a no-go, because of the shipping times and the customs fees, and also buying from other european countries is often bad as you forego free shipping and returns.

But anyway thank you for your product, it's already pretty useful for brand products. :)

Thank you for the feedback! I will gradually add other countries first two are UK and CA. What is your country?


And thank you again :)

Site is recently reopened (2 weeks) with new domain https://www.junglesearch.net and I get feedbacks to add other countries and I really like to add them. It requires some API work to get new country's categories and checking which options are working on which department so it required some work. CA, UK are on my top list to add.

Bad news Amazon closed related associate account again.

By the way Amazon canceled the affiliate account again after commenting in this thread so probably it will be closed again. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18277073

I directly clicked through to your junglesearch.net Looks nice! But is it really free, or do you 'live' off user search data?

Thank you for the comment. It is really free , I do not sell user search data I do not even record them, I only use Yandex Metrica to see how users use the site to improve site usability. One main problem is user try to chose "Most reviews" sort option without choosing any Amazon Department (When All Departments is active most of sort options will not work so I do not show them) and I even placed a site tour to make users notice it and it worked for some some users but not all of them but it is an improvement. Actually money comes from Amazon Associates Program that's the only way to monetize the site.

I'm in the market, can you tell us the name?

I'm not OP but something similar happened to me. I ended up buying the Papago goSafe 535. Pretty decent bang for buck.

Sorry for the late reply, I went road-tripping with the new dashcam. I went with Viofo A119. I think it's pretty reliable and good value for about $90 (plus an SD card). Also ordered a CPL filter got one of the cams, it's not arrived yet.

Thank you! I ordered one.

Coincidentally, I've been looking for a dashcam. Care to share which one you selected?

Sorry about the late reply, I've replied here- https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18277994

Why don't you just got to a sporting goods shop; either a local or a chain like REI or Dicks, and pay the retail premium and know what you're getting?

I don't want retail to go away. Fuck Amazon.

Quite often, thanks to eBay, Amazon and other online, those retail stores simply aren't there any more. My options are destroyed, and I have no choice but to try and buy online or drive miles on a "maybe chance".

There used to be a superb hardware store and a great outdoor store near me. Both have closed along with so much else on the high street. If I try and get a lot of what the hardware store carried either online or in other retail (the big DIY sheds) I'll get a far inferior cheap and nasty Chinese equivalent for surprisingly little saving. The items I actually want remain elusive.

The outdoor store had staff that climbed, hiked and so on, and were great for advice as well as product. If you wanted something a little out of the ordinary (either specialist or more unusual sizes) they could order it in for next day at no cost. I got a couple of super cheap items in their closing down sale. :(

I could probably drive 100 miles to Manchester or Glasgow and find a suitable retail option. That would make anything other than carefully planned bulk purchase crazy expensive.

Online has been great for rare niche items, or electronics. For an awful lot of the day-to-day rest I'm left feeling that after the initial boost when they first set up, it's left us far worse off. To cap it all Amazon are rarely cheaper any more.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

And shoddy business rates that drove the high street away.

Before the fake review epidemic, buying on Amazon meant I didn't have to drive out for an hour or longer and instead spend time on other things.

For any product I care about, I do my best to find online retailers who specialize in that category. I'll buy disposable stuff off Amazon, or something I literally cannot find anywhere else, but that's about it.

I broke my rule last week to buy a CB radio that was about 66% the usual retail price, so of course the seller rewarded me by having it delivered 600 miles away (either that, or USPS seriously messed up) and then failing to respond to my inquiries.

I much preferred the convenience of a single source which already had all my payment details setup, delivery addresses set up, and which I knew wouldn't give me any bullshit with returns.

Fulfillment should be a commodity, and I don't want to have to deal with how different brands have structured their own fulfillment.

Supporting a tiny store that does something for the community (ie real reviews) is more important to me than not having to fill out my address on another form.


I live off grid, 2+ hours from any store that would carry such arrows, and I used to buy them just fine from Amazon. My comment was about the decline of Amazon, not a request to solve my arrow buying problem :)

It would be very funny if Amazon gets back to where Internet started... curated directories.

Not necessarily à la Yahoo! but a modern collaborative system, with help from some ML would do. My friends at Slant would agree :)

Amazon wants to automate & eliminate manual tasks, not add more manual tasks to what they've already got.

But Amazon's bright sparks might be able to come up with an automated approach to solving this problem (e.g. via machine learning to identify the suspicious patterns of behaviour that Which? and others have observed) if they are suitably incentivised (e.g. sufficiently embarrassed)

I agree with this, but would like to say, if you open your orders history, you can order the same arrows again assuming the business is still selling them on Amazon.

I recently had the same experience.

In an effort to get completely off of Google, I moved my music library off of Google Music and was going to just use an MP3 player. I had some suggestions from friends (Sony, Phillips, Onkyo, Pioneer) and decided to search Amazon to see what I could find.

When I did a search on Amazon, it was page after page after page of Chinese MP3 players, all under $50. Most of the Hi-Fi players my friends recommended were in the $4-$500 range and up. Even after searching for the specific models they recommended, I still couldn't find them. The search results would return the same sub $50 players.

After a few minutes I gave up and went directly to the manufacturers site. Even more discouraging, when I was googling "Pioneer MP3 player" the Pioneer website was completely buried in the search results, but the first two pages of SERP's had a myriad of Amazon results.

There was a time when you just expected a company to be on page 1 if you searched directly by the company name and product. And these were not fly-by-night companies nobody has heard of. These were major electronic and audio companies I was searching for. Depressing to say the least

Why not order online from a sporting goods store, or, if possible, direct from the manufacturer?

"Get everything in one place" was more valuable when we had to travel from place to place and it took 30 minutes, but traveling from one website to another takes no time, so the proposition isn't as strong.

Return policies, security, etc, are concerns still, but those cons come along with the pros of no commingling, probably a lower price if ordering direct, and supporting the economic diversity of having more than one store.

Yes, at this point I'm considering cancelling my Prime subscription since I noticed that for many product categories I frequently buy (audio equipment, HIFI, biking gear, clothing, hardware) Amazon is a subpar option.

- Product exploration, curation and comparison is a huge problem at Amazon. Unless I know exactly what I want, I don't even bother searching on Amazon. This issue extends to the quality of the product selection - I think the marketplace approach is a mistake. If I wanted to browse a sea of cheap low quality items from dubious sellers, I'd check eBay.

- The selection for niche categories is limited and the listings are terrible to browse. Particularly clothing is bad: The same item is scattered over countless listings, featuring inconsistent attributes/options

- Pricing is competetive, but rarely exceptional. These days things are priced very similarly between different stores.

- return policies aren't issue here in the EU. There's a mandatory 14-day return window. Sure, 30 days are even better and Amazon handles them flawlessly, but it's basically a non-issue at any store for me.

That said, I still very much enjoy their reliable next-day delivery enabled by Prime. This is what makes me come back to Amazon again and again - after doing my product research elsewhere, of course.

Not OP.

> Why not order online from a sporting goods store, or, if possible, direct from the manufacturer?

I don’t want to share my info with more websites / services than necessary. Amazon already has my CC. I don’t want to spread my info any more than I have to.

That’s one of the main reasons I use Amazon. However as long as other sites allow me to use PayPal I’m happy.

> Why not order online from a sporting goods store, or, if possible, direct from the manufacturer?

Already have an account with Amazon, 2-3 days shipping, customer support.

I think this is his whole point, Amazon is not competitive with other retailers. At this point they seem to just be relying on their name and being the first place someone will look. I went a long time with Amazon being the first/only place I looked for stuff, but that started changing 4-5 years ago, and today I almost never buy anything from them.

I remember the daily deals used to be all useful products. Now I just feel like I am browsing some Chinese market.

Competition for scarce resources without regulation drives entropy.

> Amazon is going downhill quickly

Unfortunately I have to agree.

There has been a huge increase in the number of dodgy sellers and obviously fake reviews, and Amazon does not seem to care. I reported a few dishonest listings and absolutely nothing happened despite a number of reviews corroborating it.

Prime deliveries have also started to slip (here in the UK), with 'guaranteed next day deliveries' suddenly being delayed with no update or anything.

Amazon got so successful because they earned a pretty much blind trust from customers, but trust is lost quicker than it is earned.

"Amazon is going downhill quickly. Here's my anecdote of a niche product experience that doesn't even make up 0.0000000001% of their revenue."

Here's my anecdote: I can't stand Amazon Canada. It's complete and utter crap.

Actually everything in this country is a crappy watered-down version of the US: Amazon, Netflix, you name it.

It's not clear those low-price low-quality products aren't legitimately listed first because most people prefer them.

Edit: ignore the above, I failed to read the part where they said the price was the same.

Except when sellers game the system and flood it with fake reviews, it’s pretty strongly suggestive that this isn’t a grassroots shift in consumer preferences.

Relatedly, if someone else can make a business out of helping your customers sort out fake reviews on your site, like Fakespot has, it pretty clearly means either there’s something wrong with your site or you don’t care about the sham reviews because they still drive business for you.

Agreed. I recently heard in a talk an example of NLP being used to help rank sellers by analyzing messages between buyers and sellers, before and after transactions.

Another example was how Taobao increased the number of useful reviews by allowing sellers to pay for reviews, and used NLP to determine if the review was useful. If it was, only then would the reviewer get paid. This would then dis-incentivize sellers expecting bad feedback from paying for reviews, and incentivize good sellers who were seeking honest, relevant feedback.

Seems like both examples can still be gamed, but it seems like a step in the right direction.

> The crappy ones are also selling for $30 per set but they are made out of weak aluminum and come bent up.

Low price, low quality is a real value proposition; outside the context of wristwatches, no one legitimately prefers lower quality at the same high price.

I suggest Amazon solves this by requiring ALL purchasers to leave reviews of ALL products they buy. Or by adding a $10 fee to every purchase that can only be refunded by leaving a review.

Door Dash more or less forces users of their app to review the last delivery they had in order to place their next order. Maybe there is a way around it but it’s non-obvious. As a result, the worst rating of a restaurant I’ve seen is a 4.2 out of 5. Because people, myself included, just tap 5 stars to get it out of the way.

I don't think I would agree to that model. I wouldn't like my money being held hostage for a review. If they give me a dollar discount, on the other hand, I would be much inclined to leave a review.

It is the same model, just semantics. Either way they are increasing the price of the product by some amount and decreasing it when you leave a review.

It's only the same model if you ignore the large psychological difference.

I remember this being used early on in WoW; in order to keep people from playing too long XP earned decreased over time.

After complains it was changed to a boost for time spent logged out which was much more popular.

Ha! Great example.

I would just get the discount then leave a 1 star review, to make up for the annoying hoop I just had to jump through.

This wouldn't stop people being dishonest in their reviews. Nothing does so far.

That will just create a shitload of low-effort noise in between useful reviews.

Nah. Better solution is removing reviews from people who get refunds. Double win by incentivizing manufacturers to refund a disgruntled customer.

I'd sure prefer to know that the product I'm about to buy frequently needs to be returned.

I would love that too! If they had some sort of stat meter next to a product saying x% of the purchases were returned, it would be great. Plus it would force the seller to up their game or die.

nah, they'd just change their name more frequently

I’d also prefer to know how that return process played out.

If all reviews are glowing positive, what's the point of the review system?

According to the article, people were getting refunded via side channel and keeping the products.

Which defeats the purposes of having reviews by removing the negative reviews...

Isn't the solution to that problem branding and not nationalist policing by the retailer? I mean, reading your post I don't see what Amazon can do to make you happy except ban "chinese" manufacturers.

If you're seriously a regular buyer of these products, surely you have a few manufacturers that you know and trust, just like serious hobbyists in other activities have preferred brands of balls or shoes or guitar strings or whatever. Can't you just search for those?

> or search by brand name and even than the real ones are usually on page 2 with page one featuring the same crap from China

So he does search for specific brands and is still stymied by Amazon ranking algorithms.

Arguably, it's actually Amazon's search algorithms that are to blame. Those have been known for a long time to be sub-par, now, at least since 2012 (when I worked there).

If you search for a brand name, products without that brand name anywhere should just not show up, period. (I suppose an exception is if you just don't have it, kind of like when Netflix shows "shows related to" when they don't have what you're actually looking for.)

> kind of like when Netflix shows "shows related to" when they don't have what you're actually looking for.

I wish they would fix that and make it communicate clearly that they don't have this show, and the following are just the alternatives. Because with the UX looking identical for when there is a match and when there is none, this feels like a cheap attempt at duping people into watching something anyway.

> I wish they would fix that and make it communicate clearly that they don't have this show, and the following are just the alternatives.

I'd like if they'd say "we have this show in the markets X, Y and Z. If you'd like a change, write an email to <insert mail of studio here> or tweet to @studio."

This way, studios could finally be subjected to shitstorms. After enough of these, maybe they'll turn down their greed somewhat. I don't want to pay six different streaming providers, that gets more expensive than US cable tv prices...

"kind of like when Netflix shows "shows related to" when they don't have what you're actually looking for."

I wouldn't mind that to be honest. And I've discovered some shows/ movies which were pretty damn good (but not mainstream) just based on this sort of logic. I most likely would've never discovered them otherwise.

Showing related shows is a nice feature. The Netflix implementation feels mildly manipulative. It is as if they are pretending the film or show you are looking for does not exist and hoping you will just watch something else on their network rather than leave for another network.

I'd much rather see an acknowledgment that the show exists and that they don't carry it, and a list of related titles separated by actor, genre, director, etc. If contract allows, they could even include a "Coming on %month %date" if a licensing agreement has been reached but is not yet active. That might make me just wait until they have the title and find something else to watch now, rather than checking if (say) HBO has the movie. Additionally, they could have a "request this title" button, even if it does nothing because they're already basing their leasings on search data.

I'd also like a list of places I can view it a la gowatchit.com, but I can understand why they don't do that.

Right, but those other products pay Amazon to show them when someone searches the competitor’s brand, so they will keep showing them even if you don’t want to see it.

> Arguably, it's actually Amazon's search algorithms that are to blame. Those have been known for a long time to be sub-par, now, at least since 2012 (when I worked there).

You’re conflating direct experience with the masses. My parents didn’t work there. They wouldn’t know if I didn’t tell them. I think most people aren’t having this conversation.

Two things: First, he covered that by saying searching by brand still had his "real" search results on page 2. Second, maybe you're super young, but Amazon used to be "good stuff", not just "hey, let's compete with eBay, on their level." What if you actually don't know the difference between "good" arrows and "bad" arrows? It used to be that Amazon had already made that call for you.

Amazon used to be the place you bought from without effort. "Of course Amazon's going to give me the best item for the best price" was the ubiquitous mindset.

Now the Amazon brand name is garbage (to me). Their prices are so mercurial you can't rely on them being even "average" and odds are they're even predatory (since it's just some random guy setting his selling price, not amazon nor MSRP).

"Fool and His Money" capitalism rules the Amazon Marketplace.

It's the worst part of eBay without the low expectations and transparency.

> It used to be that Amazon had already made that call for you.

This is why I've gone back to buying from brick-and-mortar stores. They've done the curation. They're not going to carry junk that always gets returned. Ten years ago, if I could buy it from Amazon, with Prime shipping, I wouldn't leave my seat. Now, if I can buy it from Target, Best Buy, or Kroger, I'll just make the trip. Good work, Amazon. I've canceled my auto-renew for Prime. I'm done.

Unfortunately, NewEgg also seems to be following in Amazon's "marketplace" footsteps. If you're listening, guys, you have an opportunity to NOT do this!...

Yes, ditto on newegg. My heroes for fighting patent trolls and building the best shopping cart ever and having good products at good prices. Lately it's been in decline though. Haven't bought anything there for over a year.

The patent troll-fighting heroes have moved on from Newegg. It’s owned by different people now.

What's the alternative to newegg if I may ask?

Does it need a replacement? Newegg still sells a wide selection of genuine parts at reasonable prices.

>They're not going to carry junk that always gets returned

I'm guessing you mean specialty stores, and not Walmart.

> Their prices are so mercurial

I was discussing a barbell set with my trainer and by the time I got around to buy it next morning it doubled in price. Came back down in a week. WTF.

Could they have observed you looking at it?

> Could they have observed you looking at it?

Maybe, but any website that does that is being so unbelievably short-sighted and consumer-hostile that they deserve to go out of business and bankrupt their owners.

Thanks to Amazon commingling you can order a genuine brand and get a fake anyway.

Uh, QA? The source nation isn't the problem, is that Amazon is listing those crappy products over quality items.

Although, I would LOVE if Amazon let me filter out products not made in America.

I'd love a retail site that let me search by useful criteria, like country of origin, ingredients (e.g. food must contain or must not contain X), dimensions (not just '3" to 9"' when I want exactly 6.5"), etc. Amazon has most of the data already listed in tables on the product pages.

I want Octopart for everything else.

I check Fakespot, and click on some reviewer profiles. The idiots doing full-time positive product reviewing are so easy to spot by their hilarious review history that you start to assume that Amazon doesn’t do anything against them on purpose. They also mainly flock on the crap within a single month or so (but this is one of many Fakespot metrics).

I tried buying a new bicycle light last week and literally every product was crap with fake reviewing. After wasting an hour on this I ended up not buying from Amazon. Rolling out the red carpet for the Chinese crap and counterfeit industry on their platform is likely to become Amazon’s death if they don’t admit their mistake and turn the wheel now.

While this could be seen as off topic, I don’t think it is: I strongly recommend purchasing that bike light from your local bike shop. If you have a local bike shop, it is likely struggling. But it is also likely that the lights they have on offer there are specifically selected for their utility, particularly their utility in your locale. Perhaps it will be a few dollars more than Amazon, but you will reap the benefit.

Depends on the shop, I guess. My local bike shop carries quite a lot of cheap garbage too, but at high markup. I also have trust issues with many such shops. I know some where at least one person working there seems competent, but in most I've been, I get the distinct vibe of employees being domain-clueless salesmen paid to push things (similar to what's typical in electronics/home appliance stores).

I use Google's reviews to check that, always sorting by worst grades first. Saved my ass a few times, especially as an expat.

Such hit and miss are a reason brand loyalty exists, and a reason why people stick to a (certain) shop be it local or a big one.

I got a bike light on ebay and after a few months the battery failed. Even though legally I have 1 year warranty I just can't be bothered arguing with a seller for days and then having to pay return shipping which is almost as much as the light is. I ended up getting a light at the store. Cost me a little bit more but the quality is soooo much better and the battery can be replaced rather than having a sealed plastic casing.

If I ever have a problem with this light its only a 3 minute ride back to the store to return it and I know they won't try and dispute it.

It might be worth reaching out to Ebay and asking for a return—they have ridiculously consumer-friendly return policies, and even if the merchant doesn't want the return, Ebay can force it and hold it against their PayPal earnings.

Indeed. This is part of the reason why stuff on eBay isn’t actually that cheap considering what many people expect

Yes, every time I have complained about something bought on Ebay it has been resolved in my favour.

Plus, bike shop employees are usually very passionate and genuinely interested in your best interest, at least around here, which is not the norm with other businesses. If you're happy with your bicycle, you'll keep using it, and that's more business.

My local bike shop sells bike accessories for like 10x a fair price. Myabe they're struggling, maybe they have expensive rent to pay.

But at some point it's just much too much.

A good local bike shop is invaluable, especially if they have a good workshop.

I just looked for a headphone splitter for an iPhone. Every result on the page had pretty high reviews, but when you click on the results and look at the reviews you see weird five star reviews like "great planner with a great cover" and "this was the perfect organizer for my daughter's drawers" at the top of the reviews for a highly rated headphone splitter. I don't know what's going on with Amazon, but I ended up going to best buy to look for peripherals.

It is sellers abusing product variation feature on amazon. Basically it works like that - they find out of stock product with high number of positive reviews, add it as a variation to their own product. Since this product is out of stock, it would not show up on the product page as an option to select, yet they gain all reviews/stars from that product. This needs to be reported to Amazon.

That's very interesting and completely believable. If I may ask, how'd you find this? Do you work at Amazon (is this known at Amazon, I would assume so)?

I am a seller and have to scan daily for competitors pulling this trick. From communication with seller support, it appears that Amazon is on the way to stop reviews from one variation to propagate to all product in the "family" as a way to stop it, but when it happens - who knows. More pressure from both sellers and customers should push Amazon towards it.

Amazon rolled out the carpet for counterfeit when they mixed their inventory with seller inventory. Do not buy common automotive parts from Amazon. Really good chance you will get a knockoff part.

They have to clearly separate between Marketplace and Amazon again. Everything used to be fine when people knew from whom they bought at any time. They are removing the line in multiple ways right now (one of the worst being comingling).

Well said.

Amazon is either going to clean their house or someone is going to do it for them.

Completely agree. I think a better way to get reviews now is just to type "(product name) review" into youtube. Seems more honest review. Stay away from anything that is Chinese product. Most of it is so sloppily made.

These are also paid - the barrier to entry is just higher because the reviewer needs to have a little equipment and be able to speak cogently for five minutes.

Personally, I start with ensuring I know the correct "(product name)" I want. I start with going to Wirecutter if they do reviews of a given category of products, or otherwise trawl through domain-specific subreddits.

Shit like this is what made me lose confidence in Amazon and I stopped my prime subscription.

My wife bought me “luxury” branded jackets and clothing for fall. Half of them were counterfeit. I called Amazon and they said I can return them and they’ll send me new ones. Ok. How will I know those won’t be counterfeit? Worse, I found a jacket was counterfeit after the return period when it literally started to fall apart at the seams. Welp, Amazon said they can’t refund me.

Multiple times my packages are either not delivered on time or aren’t delivered at all. 2 times they were half way across the state. When I called them to ask, they wanted me to confirm my address since they magically and suddenly couldn’t find my address anymore. Well guys you’ve delivered 10k+ worth of goods to me at this address this year alone. WTF?!

My customer service experience also degraded every other instance. When they missed my last delivery date I called them and threatened to cancel and the rep said “Sure, Sir, let me do that after I reorder this item”. He figured it was quicker or reorder an item than wait for it to get back from across the state.

Technically, the pervasive Amazon counterfeit problem is unrelated to the fake review problem. Both are serious problems that Amazon does little to combat, but they're not the same. The counterfeiting is more insidious because Amazon is entirely at fault for mixing legit merchandise with counterfeits. Fake reviews on the other hand aren't Amazon's fault. That's just the world being filled with heinous assholes out to make a buck by cheating, lying, and stealing from everyone else. At best Amazon could independently audit and review all products themselves. Actually if they did that I'd probably start buying from them again...

Amazon absolutely has to deal with the fake review problem. In some ways, you can think of it as analogous to google search. Google's moneymaker isn't the search; it's the ads. But Google spends a lot of time fixing search quality and dealing with people gaming search results because otherwise the ad revenue disappears.

I wouldn't be surprised if the actions Google took to push Amazon results off the first page product results skewed the Amazon product catalog towards gamed marketplace results. Amazon was getting a free ride on Google's results sort of like Wikipedia for a fairly long time. Now you have to dig to find links to either of them. The effect on Amazon may also be a result of pricing changes Google made around 2015.

I'm surprised to hear about this, as I frequently find myself having to explicitly -amazon -$ and other things to keep garbage product listings out of my google search results.

Amazon kind of audits and reviews products, or at least has an official program for sellers to solicit user reviews: it's called Amazon Vine [0].

For the reviewers (the "Vine Voices"), it looks like this: on a regular basis, you can choose a product to review (based on your past reviews, purchasing history etc., maybe - they don't disclose how that works), and Amazon sends the product to you. Within one month, you have to post a review.

You can post whatever review you want; to become a Vine Voice, you need a reasonably high reviewer ranking (mostly based on "helpful" votes: [1]). The reviews are labelled as written by a Vine Voice.

As a side note, I know a Vine Voice, and they get emails from companies offering to reimburse them for a product in exchange for a five star reviews every few days.

[0]: https://www.amazon.com/gp/vine/help

[1]: https://www.amazon.com/review/guidelines/top-reviewers.html/

I don’t ever want to read any reviews by someone who gets free product, so if that’s how vine works, it’s broken by design.

Why though? If getting the product for free isn't contingent on you writing a positive review(only on writing one at all), why would it be broken?

The incentive structure can get seriously misaligned if you receive the product for free. You want to keep getting free products, which means that you want to make the person giving you the products happy. Amazon is giving you the products. Amazon is happy, or at least there is a common perception to that effect, if you rate things highly because then more people buy things from them. So you rate more highly so that you can keep receiving free products.

Not only that but, IMO, you can't really objectively review a product you didn't pay for and buy out of your own free will. "That's neat" for a product you got for free can easily be "waste of money" if you had to pay for it.

Most product reviews you see by bloggers and youtubers are seeded this way. Vendors understand that when people are curious about a product, they search for it and click on some reviews. It’s common practice to make sure that they have results by giving them to reviewers.

Reviewers generally fall into 3 categories.

The small time reviewers who are excited to get free stuff, and want more free stuff in the future. Aside from their delight of free product, which gives a major positive bias before they even unbox, there is also the fact that if they trash a product, nobody is sending them one again.

Then there is the professional reviewer. They monetize their website and youtube channel heavily, and they live or die by getting product to review. If they trash a product, they face a huge risk of not receiving anything from that vendor again.

The third is the fully independent outfit that has a revenue stream completely detached from the product, and often have to buy it on their own. This is very expensive, and not many consumers pay for reviews. Consumer Reports is an example.

As a result, almost any kind of review you find is likely worthless, and should be treated as a paid ad.

> As a side note, I know a Vine Voice, and they get emails from companies offering to reimburse them for a product in exchange for a five star reviews every few days.

Amzn should pay extra for those. Then ban them:)

> Actually if they did that I'd probably start buying from them again

Not that it would inherently solve the problem or prevent pay for play, but it would be a great strategy for Amazon to have an independent review company.

There are problems, though: 1. How do we trust that there's some objectivity, particularly as it relates to things that compete with Amazon products?

2. How could reviewers possibly cover any significant amount of the vast number of products Amazon sells?

I'd bet a lot of the fake reviews would disappear if they just:

1. Limited users ability to post reviews to say, 3 per year and no more than 1 in any given month.

2. Limit users ability to post more than one review per vendor, per year.

3. Only allow reviews by verified purchasers.

I think they'd just put in 365000 fake accounts, and continue posting 1000 fake reviews a day

365,000 credit cards, 365,000 delivery addresses?

If bots worked, they wouldn't have had to resort to real humans on Facebook to get reviews.

Amazon customer service is now quite terrible. Anecdote: I know somebody who has an office that is literally within a 2 block radius of Amazon HQ in Seattle (the new Doppler and Day One buildings). Getting Amazon's third party delivery contractors to successfully deliver to their office suite door, in a high-rise office tower, has been an amazing struggle.

Deliveries get sent back as "rejected" all the time, when the delivery person has actually not even bothered to sign in at the lobby and go up to the office suite floor. More than a half dozen phone calls and chats with Amazon customer service, requesting that they edit the delivery info for the building, have been pretty much fruitless.

This has been similar to my experience recently with a package marked as rejected.

It's a shitty caught in limbo situation - they refused to acknowledge even the possibility that the delivery service might not have made an honest effort to get into the building, and they wouldn't let me cancel the order without a penalty, but they couldn't tell me where my package was and had no way of contacting the carrier for me to schedule another time for delivery. There also seems to be no policy to automatically retry the next day. All they could do was take my phone number and then the delivery company might call me later if they felt like it. It was very bizarre.

Since then I have stopped using free 1-day shipping, because at least in larger buildings UPS and USPS can generally get in fine as they're delivering multiple packages every day. The random small companies that handle the one day shipping seem to be a lot less reliable.

> The random small companies

At least in Seattle, the "random small companies" are frequently some random dude with a van and a phone app. They're doing ubereats type package delivery now. There's a pickup center at north Aurora and 145th where a motley assortment of drivers pick up packages and take them to the customer destination now.

This reminds me a bit of my own giant techco bugbear: for the longest time, Google Maps mishandled my home address - literally across the street from their local office - because it didn't recognize the 1/2 in the house number. It would direct users to 1 Fake St rather than N 1/2 Fake St.

To be fair, I imagine a lot of systems don't handle noninteger house numbers very robustly. That "1/2" business just seems like asking for trouble.

The best solution might be to convince your building landlord or management to rename the units as 1 Fake Street Unit A and Unit B, or something like that. Assuming they don't have to fight City Hall to make that happen, they might be willing to help.

You would think, however, that the "1/2" works fine in the text field used for a standard North American address... At least with Amazon and 99% of ecommerce sites there's two separate freeform text entry fields for street address. It's not like these are fields that require a precise integer.

This should enable the actual human making the delivery to see the same thing printed on the label, and visually match it to whatever is labeled "1/2" on the building.

> It's not like these are fields that require a precise integer.

If you are treating the street address as more than a string something is wrong. Its supposed to be a string by design unless you are trying to be efficient by storing ints as ints but then you shouldnt be evaluating them from user input and if you are... Treat it as a raw string.

IIRC Google Maps used to interpolate between points with known addresses on streets to estimate where other numeric addresses were along the street, when they didn't have exact points for them. So there's at least one legitimate example of not treating an address as a string.

There's probably more to it than that.

With some knowledge of the ordering scheme, you can determine relative locations and route drivers without storing every address on a street. I think it's very easy to imagine a cases where have "1/3" as your street number could cause problems (0.33333333... out of memory) or just dealing with floating point conversion and typing can lead to seemingly random bugs.

Accepting non-integers should be fine, as long as there's no delimiter or reversions to numbers ( e.g.- 321A Main St.), but I could see it being a problem with delimiters. It greatly expands the solution space for recognition tasks. Is 321 N Main Street: 321 Main St. Unit N or 321 North Main St? Is 321/A Main St: 321 Main St Unit A, 321-A(ths) Main St, 32 Main St. Unit 1 or A, 3214 Main St (A/4 character recognition failure), 321 Main St (A is escaped by /), 321 AMAIN St., 32 Main St Unit VA.

Where does it switch from a unit number to an address? 321A21B Main St could be read at least a dozen different ways, especially if we allow for recognition errors. Can't we at least agree that a physical building has an integer value and anything inside the building becomes a separate field (Unit, Suite, Floor, Cabana Room, etc)? No one's pumping money into post office modernization and we're not going to see Unicode or Emoji address support, so can't we simply agree on a few rules?

whole cities have noninteger house numbers

Eg a town I grew up in labeled houses N\d\+ W\d\+ [street name]

We have a security camera at our front gate. One reason why I no longer order from Amazon is that our porters could actually show me videos of Amazon's delivery contractors going to our gate, pressing the call button, and leaving before the porter could even start speaking.

I had an $800 electronic item that was delivered at 11:30 PM on a Friday night and was left outside of our office building where 300 people worked because we were closed. Took massive effort to convince customer service i never got it. Of course it walked away before i went back Saturday morning to pick it up.

We basically stopped getting any products that go on or in your body from Amazon due to the pervasiveness of fake products on there. Tons of fake makeup, shampoos, vitamins, electronics. imo Amazon is worse than ebay lately with the amount of counterfeit goods.

Regarding a counterfeit product, is the return period relevant? It’s a case of fraud. It seems it would be an open and shut case for a small claim court, if they didn’t provide a refund.

You can pursue chargebacks with the credit card as well. I’ve been told that they will eventually banish you if you do it often.

Doesn't Amazon have binding arbitration? I know they do on the seller side.

I've had the case that the delivery company didn't get the full address to deliver to. They tried to deliver multiple times and said every time that the address didn't exist or couldn't be found. I called the transportation support to complain and I was dumbfounded that they simply didn't have a correct address.

I don't know who screwed up, Amazon or the delivery company but something definitely went wrong on either side.

I wonder how this is in Europe where the buyer can get very hefty fines for buying counterfeit goods and even heftier fines for bringing said goods across borders.

Personally I don't shop at Amazon so I don't know if it's a problem here.

I was used to always buying on Amazon in Europe and I never had issues. Then I moved to the US and the whole experience is so much worse. Counterfeits, opened/unsealed packages, disappearing packages, 1 day delivery fee paid and package arrives 5 days later and so on. It's as if it was a different company.

Prly only a matter of time as everything comes to Europe a bit later. The amount of crap from China on Amazon seems to grow every day here also.

"His name had been flagged by CBP for importing counterfeit goods "


I've never had a counterfeit item, as in not the actual brand I bought. There is a lot of crappy cheap stuff though.

One thing I've noticed is items with the "top seller" tag but if you actually check the category in which they are top seller, it's a category that has nothing to do with the product.

Why aree you ordering brands off amazon rather than from the brand? You get what you pay for. Good luck on the fraud charge.

> Why aree you ordering brands off amazon

WTF? Because fraud is illegal and amazon often has lower prices on goods.

Well clearly there is a reason for the lower prices.

There could be various legitimate reasons, though.

The brand could be overstocked in a particular item and want to get rid of inventory without harming their brand cachet - you're probably not going to find a clearance section on Gucci's website, but that doesn't mean they don't have a need for it.

This is true. But why would they have an overstock? Either it is unpopular and not worth counterfeiting or it’s counterfeited immediately because it’s popular to undercut. The scenarios seem difficult to distinguish.

The consumer looking it up on Amazon isn't going to know which of those two scenarios it is. Thus, my point - blaming the consumer for purchasing it is unfair. There are legitimate reasons for a consumer to think the product is a) real and b) cheaper than usual.

It seems like the legitimacy of something should be demonstrated, not assumed.

Just because fraud is illegal doesn’t mean you can’t see it coming.

Amazon doesn't deliver the things you bought. I don't understand why you are buying luxury goods off of Amazon when you aren't able to distinguish between counterfeit goods. There is a reason designer stores exist. There are many reasons that Amazon as a company and service are bad but almost none of what you describe is a valid complaint.

Amazon logistics deliver at least 1/3 of the items I purchase from them. A "Prime" branded van literally pulls up to my house and someone who I assume works for Amazon drops the package on my stoop.

> I don't understand why you are buying luxury goods off of Amazon when you aren't able to distinguish between counterfeit goods.

I read this sentence four times and still don't quite understand it. Particularly in response to someone who said they tried to return an item to Amazon exactly because they realized it was counterfeit.

Can you rephrase whatever it was you were trying to say there?

I meant to say distinguish between counterfeit goods and the genuine article. I just think when you spend at least 4 digits on something you should either have experience in the area or buy with someone who does. Should Amazon do a better job on stopping counterfeit? Yes but that doesn't stop you from using common sense. Also the use of Amazon logistics is very regional and I assumed the OP would have mentioned that. There is always going to be a good enough margin for selling counterfeit goods of luxury brands that this will most likely never stop.

Those Prime branded vans are often third party contractors as well.

Yeah, but Amazon is paying them and branding their trucks with the amazon logo, they should take responsibility for quality of service.

Amazon has been known to deliver counterfeits including counterfeit books which was a popular story here on HN a while back.

Edit see here on Amazon counterfeit books specifically Python for Kids being counterfeit:


> I don't understand why you are buying luxury goods off of Amazon when you aren't able to distinguish between counterfeit goods.

His wife bought him a gift. I assume she thought that a company as big as Amazon wouldn't allow sales of counterfeit items on their platform, like I once did.

> My wife bought me “luxury” branded jackets and clothing for fall.

This is a serious problem. My wife goes to Amazon and just buys the top seller of whatever she's looking for(even if its from a no name marketplace seller). I don't think she realizes people can game this system.

Most people I've spoken to don't even realize Amazon is a "marketplace" that has multiple sellers.

Until 2010ish, I thought that Amazon sold all of their listed items and that I had to specifically choose "New & Used" from other sellers to purchase an item from someone else.

Amazon does do deliveries. This is also a valid complaint. Amazon doesn't say don't order X, Y, or Z; they let you order anything. They just need to work harder on solving these issues because I've seen many other complaints like this.

Wow. The Facebook groups mentioned in the article have 87,000 members, who are offered full reimbursement of product costs in exchange for writing five-star reviews on Amazon. The only way to describe this is as a large-scale effort to deceive and defraud mass consumers. Ugly, ugly, ugly.

This story is kind of old news - anyone on chat groups who speaks chinese knows about these.

The thing is - chinese nationals using ingenuity to trick money out of americans, that's a recurring theme in the modern world.

> using ingenuity to trick money out of americans, that's a recurring theme in the modern world.

Fake reviews aren't "ingenuity," they're dishonesty and fraud that exploit a high-trust culture.

High-trust cultures are valuable, hard to create, and easy to destroy. The reaction to all this online review fraud is going to be default mistrust and wasted effort by consumers who are going to be forced to constantly second-guessing information or get scammed.

The only way to describe this is as an unfortunate inevitability of review systems as a whole.

I'd say of unmoderated (or poorly moderated) review systems. E.g., we don't see this on Angie's List or Houzz.

I've found that the only way to get useful information out of most Amazon reviews is to look at the 1- & 2-stars, trying to filter out the fake competitor hits, and see if there are any consistent issues that aren't DEU issues. Then look at the 3- & 4-stars and see what seems to be good. That said, I expect it'll only be a matter of time until this strategy is no good.

I'd say this is exactly where some kind of web of trust could work. Meaning that everyone is shown the reviews of their added family members, their trusted people (with less weight) and so on and on. If they betray the trust the system could even have a "trust less" button. It'd actually give people the ability to choose who they trust.

Are you kidding? People I know have TERRIBLE judgement when it comes to products. Who builds trust based on that characteristic?

You don't normally need to trust their judgement as long as they aren't straight up lying. As long as they are making an attempt at being truthful, you just have to try to evaluate their review from their perspective.

E.g, Janet says product X works really well and she loves it, but you know she likes them with a certain feature that you don't like. therefore you should stay away because the product probably has that feature you don't like

It all depends on how you use reviews, I guess. I look for obvious problems and cost that in. Anecdotally it’s fairly difficult to hide bad reviews. It’s your expectations that make you unhappy; I don’t expect much buying a product sight unseen.

You see the same issues on Yelp. Reviews are always a secondary indicator of quality compared to, say, experiencing it yourself or getting a recommendation from a friend. I’d guess that the review style that is best depends highly on the good or service being sold, much like establishing consensus, and there is no general purpose review pattern that works well.

But a web of trust based on, "I like this reviwer, so I trust who they trust" seems reasonable.

I imagine automatic reputation building for socket puppets will be right next on the market after such change.

People used to pay a premium for people that got out of their way and found the actually good stuff. Nowadays it's just more lucrative to build some trust and use it to defraud people as soon as possible.

I don't know where this path leads, but it's not looking nice.

I am really curious if this would actually work. I also think if you trust a reviewer and it turns out they are a bad reviewer than your trust rating should lower. (you turned out to be a bad reviewer reviewer)

That said I have no idea if this would. Seems those 87k people mentioned above would just trust each other to raise their trust ratings.

Its not about total trust "rating". That not how web of trust works. You, the informed and responsible user, have to look at who their connections are.

It's more like Linkedin: if someone adds you and they are a mutual connection with a bunch of coworkers you like, that's good. But if their mutual connections are all social climbing spammers, you know they either are one themselves or don't know enough not to fall for that stuff.

So now I have to spend time reviewing reviewers? This smells like the next bullshit job (or, since I'm not even paid for it, just a huge waste of time).

I'd say this is exactly where some kind of web of trust could work.

There is a temporal dimension to this too. Everyone loves their new toy just as they unbox it. What interests me is reviews after having used it for a few weeks or months.

Amazon has all the data it needs to filter reviews by “people who have actually bought this, review left after n weeks”.

Another factor is reviews with pictures depending on what you are buying. In any case I cancelled Amazon prime. They wont be getting my money once my membership expires. I rather pay for a service thats worthwhile to me. I rather get my things at Walmart or BestBuy due to convenience and now BestBuy will price match Amazon.

For all the problems that Amazon has, there is a long history of Best Buy actively pushing consumer-harmful practises that I would still rate them a lower choice.

The first one that comes to mind is forcing printer manufacturers to not bundle USB cables so they can separately sell them at a high markup

I usually only buy things they can't bully themselves into like Macs or Surface devices, or gaming consoles. However, I was not aware of such awful nonsense.

If people wanted to fake review Angie's List or Houzz, they would do it.

> Angie's List or Houzz.

Ok sure, you can put it down to moderation, or you can put it down to size. What is the size of Angie's list to Amazon?

Not only that, but Angie's List covers services that only reach a small market. So a fake review for any individual product has a much small potential reach.


To me, the real bullshit is the expectation that anything other than a 100% 5/5 score is an indicator of serious fault.

If you leave 4/5 as an eBay review for example you have pretty much offended the seller.

Most products sold on eBay / amazon are too simple for detailed seller ratings to matter. The usefulness of a 5 star review system is far higher when there is a wide and fairly continuous spectrum of expected performance (food, airbnb) compared to a binary choice between "something this simple really shouldn't break so easily" and "it works fine".

Like on Fiverr where if I leave a 3 star review for substandard work, below expectations set by their portfolio, I feel like I've killed their dog.

There really should just be a "things went fine" and "something went wrong" toggle, with the option to leave a more detailed bit of feedback. "93% of people had no issues" is a lot more meaningful than "4.3 stars" to me.

I'd say that's an additional way to describe it.

Important to mention: ugly in terms of i assume illegality of this in many countries. I’m also convinced there are many countries when something like this is either fully legal or not covered by law this or another way. So “ugly ugly ugly” but technically and legally the caravan goes on.

*-star reviews on all of the major review sites are 2-dimensional. They should be 3 dimensional (0-x stars) + time. This way if clusters of 5-star reviews show up in an extremely short period of time it's a red flag. Instead of seeing a static "this product/service got x stars", we should be able to see "this product/service, within the last 1 month, received on average x stars". And then you can extrapolate, oh they received on average 2 stars before they upgraded their product, and now the product is getting 4 stars. Or something like: "this restaurant was getting on average 1.5 stars last year, but recently they're getting glowing reviews. Maybe they fired the manager?".

Fake review services have already figured out how to slow-drip reviews. If you put a mediocre product on Amazon and buy reviews, there will be no legit review history to compare against either. It's a tough nut to crack if the fake reviews are linked to real purchases already.

I'd say by slow dripping the reviews won't they have to contend more with the "real" reviews? After all by pushing a bunch of 5 stars quickly the average will be bumped up substantially and be unaffected by real reviews. At least in this case they'll have to contend with legit reviews and will not be as easy to sprout all the way to the top of the search results for same reason.

It's the same no? If there are 10 times more fake reviews than legit ones and they can spread them over time, you can't use the distribution to detect it.

I think there are probably a number of reasons it's different.

1) 1000 5-star reviews with maybe a handful of 3,2,1 star reviews trickling in as actual consumers realize their mistake is less of a signal not to buy than if I see another low review trickled in amongst the 10-20 5-star reviews.

2) The company defrauding by purchasing the reviews is not going to make their money back as quickly probably since they won't end up on top of search results as often. So these companies will be stretched a lot thinner and probably recoup their expenses a lot slower than if they start instantly showing up on top of peoples' search results. And in order to keep from "floating" a bunch of free stuff without reviews they'll have to be extremely coordinated about how they distribute their products and request recipients to provide the reviews in order to make it a worth while pursuit.

Also this very interesting Planet Money episode #838 about people all over the world receiving weird packages full of random Chinese items that they never ordered.


Turns out they are phantom packages from vendors on Ali Baba and TaoBao gaming the review system. This is called "brushing".

They managed to interview a "brusher". So the brushers have to make themselves look completely real during the buying process, hesitating, clicking links from different vendors and only after a while select the actual item they target. To get the "verified purchase" tag something has to be mailed somewhere. But instead of the actual item the vendor sends a package with random stuff and sometimes they send these to addresses of previous unknowing international customers to make it look more real.

I feel unaffected by such fake reviews as the only ones I ascribe much value to are the negative ones. Also, I've extremely curtailed any purchasing on Amazon as I've come to perceive the majority of their marketplace to be a degenerative crap house.

I met a family member (like 2nd cousin or further away) at some wedding a few years ago. I only talked to him once, but he was very clear about this situation. He owned a hotel, and was trying to track down the writers of bad reviews on Yelp. Primarily, as the owner of the hotel, it was his job to find out what's wrong about the hotel and improve it.

But he started to investigate some of the 1-star reviews, and came to the conclusion that these people didn't exist. He dug through all the receipts, he tried to track down and correlate the time with when these reviews popped up and tried to track down any issue. His ultimate conclusion was that a number of the 1-star reviews on his hotel were simply fake.

The discussion continued to talk about tort law, and how he's unable to even get a person to sue. He can't sue Yelp, because Yelp wasn't the author of those posts. So he was basically helpless to defend against 1-star reviews. In any case, if people can fake a 5-star review, they can also fake a 1-star review. And based on what I discussed with this man years ago, it seems like it really is happening right now.

Its probably easier for a Hotel-chain to leave bad reviews on their competitors. There are only so many hotels in a given area, and Yelp easily allows you to list all of the competitors in your region. Its probably less of a thing on Amazon, but I don't see any reason why it wouldn't exist there either.

> The discussion continued to talk about tort law, and how he's unable to even get a person to sue. He can't sue Yelp, because Yelp wasn't the author of those posts.

Yelp doesn't need to be a party to the lawsuit for a subpoena to be issued to them. You sue the poster as John Doe, send a subpoena to Yelp for the poster's account information and IP address, send a subpoena to the poster's ISP for the account information of the user assigned that IP address at that time, and keep following that trail. Eventually you might find some person who was paid to post the fake reviews, and you can use the legal system to find out who paid them. (In fact, they'll probably cooperate with your investigation in exchange for dropping them as a party.) There's no guarantee of success -- you might find the trail ends up with a no-logging VPN, an open Wi-Fi hotspot, or some other multi-user shared environment where the activity can't be linked to a specific person -- but it is possible to try.

A heuristic that I've used quite a lot recently is to look at three-star reviews and see if the reviewer's gripes are relevant to me. Works quite well, but I guess it is only a matter of time and we'll soon start seeing fake three-star reviews.

And eventually when people start to favor two and four star reviews those will start being gamed as well, and then, just like in a math problem where all the variables magically cancel out, all the fake reviews will exist in perfect equilibrium and average review scores will reflect only the real reviews! Genius!

And you may have shortened its lifespan by publicizing it.

So you can leave a review without even using the service or product on Yelp?

Without a verified purchase, why would anyway take the review seriously?

How would you even implement a verified purchase? For a hotel maybe you could forward an itinerary (which can be faked) but there’s probably no receipt for a random taco stand that only accepts cash. Granted the latter does not care as much as the hotel but whatever they do would need to cover everybody.

After thinking about this problem for... umm... 30 seconds...

Allow users to write reviews, and then send a message to the hotel owner saying "X has posted a review of your business. Do you accept that X was a guest on X date?"

The hotel owner is forced to verify the stay before he gets to see the review.

Of course he'll know all about the outliers who had a bad experience and complained at the hotel and might want to lie about the guest staying, but such guests are usually very motivated and willing to prove their stay with receipts, photos, etc.

Then the hotel owner can put a ton of fake positive reviews and verify all.

With a receipt system to authenticate real customer and an opt-in inscription to the service by restaurants/hotels, it could make it.

It could be linked to an order/invoice number the owner could check or enter in the system when the client check in or check out. The client would then be required to enter that number to authenticate he's a real consumer.

That's not how Yelp works, though. It's not opt-in or even opt-out. I'd guess most businesses reviewed on Yelp have no relationship with Yelp.

And ones with primarily bad reviews (which may not be their fault: cheap motels in particular seem to attract bad reviews from people who expect too much for the price) could just refuse to acknowledge any reviews.

Plus I think users are attracted to the illusion that the business doesn't know who they are. People would be less inclined to post reviews if they knew they'd be emailed directly to the business owner for sign off.

>...but there's probably no receipt...

Genius ! Time to go after yelp... A distributed receipt maker to authenticate online hotel/restaurant review system.

Hopefully, there is just enough time to IPO before the next stock market crash.

How would Yelp know if you made a purchase? You’re not buying anything through them. Lack of a verified purchase describes pretty much every review long before there was a Web although there were of course gatekeepers like newspaper editors.

Hotels can avoid poor reviews with verified services: https://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-10/meriton-manipulate...

not required on amazon either. you can just review anything.

It's definitely a thing on Amazon also.

Wouldn't fake reviews reduce the credibility of Yelp eventually, thus letting the problem take care of itself?

I mean, that already happened. I know I haven’t taken Yelp reviews seriously for years.

If you avoid a hotel because of fake bad reviews, you are unlikely to learn the reviews were fake.

I bought a problematic item on Amazon and left a negative review. The seller contacted me three times via email and offered me $30 (the cost of the item) to remove the review. I didn't take it but maybe others had. And I wonder if I was duped into buying the thing because previous negative reviewers had been bought off.

Considering the fake reviews and the number of counterfeit items I've received from Amazon, I default to Costco, Target, Lowes, etc. for shopping now. I have a lot more confidence that their suppliers and their vetting of products are legit.

I consider Amazon a flea market at this point. I'll buy some things at a flea market, but not much.

So if you want free stuff just leave bad reviews.

The world is so broken.

My sister's used to do the same thing to the Coca Cola company when we were young. They would call the hotline and complain they had some come that tasted like dishwashing liquid and they would get loads of coupons sent to them for free coke.

I think they did it every time we moved house and we lived in quite a few houses. It was always entertaining.

Now that I think about it my 8 year old sister was committing fraud.


Coke* - that's an unfortunate typo

I'd be very tempted to remove the review, take the money, then repost the review...

I think I'd just update the review to also mention the attempted bribe.

I’m an amazon seller with our own brand of products, and many of our 1 star reviews are fakes by the competition. For awhile we also had a bunch of returns and Amazon temporarily closed our listing because of the poor performance. When I looked into it the addresses on those orders were to a variety of different motels in Alabama. People are shady af and it’s frustrating trying to do business legitimately.

Although fake positive reviews are surely much more common, I'd also keep a skeptical eye on the negative reviews, especially if the product is politically controversial.

A couple years ago, there was a book critical of Internet service in the US and how it lags behind countries with more public funding. It received hundreds of obviously scripted 1-star reviews like "I am a [blue collar profession] in [middle American state], and I appreciate how great my Internet service is. The US is bigger than [smallish European state]. The author is [ad hominem], etc." Someone posted it to Reddit, and then it got a bunch of fake 5-star reviews as well.

> I feel unaffected by such fake reviews as the only ones I ascribe much value to are the negative ones.

I suppose fake review factories can be hired just as well to make the competition look bad ...

Fake negative reviews are a tactic of nasty competitors. I'm an Amazon seller and they are rampant. The more competitive the category you're in, the nastier it gets. They will bomb you with negative reviews using certain keywords that will trigger an Amazon algorithm to shut you down.

Amazon has a few systems in place for QC, things like 6% negative customer experience rate or certain keywords like counterfeit or related to safety that will get you flagged. Once you're flagged or shut down, it might take a week or two or more to sell again. You will probably have to pay for an expensive specialist to help you clear Amazon's red tape because if you mess up, and many people do, you might be banned forever from the Amazon marketplace. Almost like a sick video game.

It's a little funny but maddening how people will abuse every gear that makes the Amazon system tick. I use a number of Amazon softwares to scrape data from Amazon and I love seeing the bad players. I'm also in an expensive mastermind and their tactics are dirty. These are Americans so I can't even imagine the tactics that Chinese sellers might use. Honestly, every month I spend in this business makes me lose faith a little more. It's a dark system and I do not like where I think it's going.

Great insight - what services do you use to watch your own & other sellers? Been meaning to write software in this space for a while. Feel free to dm me email is in profile.

I use Viral Launch's Market Intelligence to get data on # of reviews, estimated sales, review %, etc. I also use Helium10 to get keyword search data supposedly from the Amazon Advertising API. Between those two sets of data- it's very easy to see bad sellers.

There's dozens of tools for Amazon sellers and I think what they're missing is something that connects ALL the moving parts together as well as helps Amazon sellers expand outside the Amazon marketplace. Amazon software tends to be expensive.

Helium10's cheapest plan is $100/mo.

The software I use for inventory is $50/mo (Inventorylab),

a repricing software was $50/mo- now maybe $100/mo (Appeagle/InformedCo).

Feedback email software is $20-50+/mo (FeedbackGenius, ZonPages, etc).

Restocking software is $50-100+/mo (RestockPro).

Sourcing software is $50+/mo (Pricechecker 2, Tactical Arbitrage, etc).

I learned Python to automate some of my processes because I was spending thousands of dollars for my own tiny Amazon store with $100k+ annual sales. There's over 100,000 sellers on Amazon that do $100k+ annual sales as well hundreds of very big sellers ($10m+) that need custom software solutions. So it's a niche but interesting market.

It's a pretty exciting space. Amazon changes so often, every few months, making it difficult for small sellers and software providers to keep up. The best software last year is no longer the best software today.

Currently I see the biggest competition in Amazon PPC software companies: Teikametrics, Feedvisor. If anyone's interested in building software for Amazon- I'd love to connect.

Amazing writeup and insight - appreciate the detailed response.

Yes, that is food for thought. Although the Amazon situation doesn't fit the fake-yelp-reviews-about-a-hotel scenario because one's Amazon competitors are nearly infinite and constantly changing, whereas there are only a geographically limited number of restaurant or hotel competitors to pillory.

Competitors will pay for fake reviews. I know a friend who gets offers to do this in exchange for discounted goods.

That reminds me of this video about the beauty industry. Brands will pay influencers $15k for a shoutout or good review about their brand, but will pay upwards of $60k for a disparaging review of their competitors brands:


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