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Fake Amazon reviews 'being sold in bulk' online (bbc.com)
569 points by _wldu 15 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 414 comments

Amazon has a problem with fake reviews and it seems they are ok with it.

I bought a replacement screen from Amazon and it wasn’t working properly. I thought I did something wrong so I contacted the seller/manufacturer and they told: oh yeah, it‘s defective, we‘ll just give you your money back. I agreed and then the person said „cool, now in order to process your request, please click these buttons on Amazon” and they sent me a screenshot showing how to leave a 5 star review. wtf.

I refused and asked them to process the refund. First they said they can’t process the refund technically without me pressing those buttons and then that their job depends on it.

I requested a refund through Amazon and tried leaving a 1-star review saying that the product was defective and the seller tried to condition me into giving them a 5 star review. This review was not accepted by Amazon, saying that seller feedback should be given on the seller page. This does make sense if you have multiple sellers selling the same product, but it was not the case here. These guys were the only ones producing and selling it and if the score of 5-star reviews is from people being coerced to leave a review, then it should be there, not on the seller page where it’s very easily buried.

In the end I also contacted Amazon support with screenshots and I had to explain the problem 3 times as the customer representative said they didn’t understand what more can they do since I already received my refund. I’m the end, they said “they forwarded the message to the proper department, have a nice day”

As an economics grad, I always wondered why online reviews existed at all. There's no skin in the game for anyone.

If your neighbor recommends you a crap lawnmower, he'll have to explain to you why he thought it was good. You can ask him questions and compare his motivations to yours. He'll also end up living next to a badly mowed lawn if he doesn't put some work into it.

The seller has every reason to pay people to write good reviews. He doesn't even need real people, it's the internet and you can invent people, complete with their own unique photos and profiles.

Basically, honesty is expensive and cheating is cheap. Why would we trust it?

My personal experience with Amazon is that it's the shop to go to for stuff that is ok if it is broken. If I buy a cable for £10, and there's a 10% chance it's faulty, it's not a huge problem for me. The other use case is where the guarantee comes from the brand. I'm not sure why but I tend to think if I buy an iPhone on Amazon, it will be the genuine thing from Apple, and I have history with Apple apart from Amazon reviews.

That there is no skin in the game for anyone is not a fault of online reviews per se in my opinion.

Brands were invented to enable a trust relationship between manufacturer and consumer. Brands are an anchor of trust. There is no such anchor for sellers.

As you wrote, your neighbor won't recommend you a bad lawnmower because they have an interest in a continued good relationship. If your neighbor is secretly exchanged for a almost, but not quite identical one, willy-nilly and all the time you would not be able to build a trusting relationship in real life too.

But that is exactly what happens on Amazon. What good are seller reviews if sellers change and disappear all the time. What good are they if I can't click "Buy again" and then rely on buying not only the same product but also from the same seller I already trust?

I wish seller brands were as prominent as manufacturer brands but I can understand why neither Amazon nor traditional brand have an interest in such a system.

I would suggest that in lieu of individual seller brands on Amazon we do have one seller brand: Amazon

We all know that Amazon has counterfeit goods and only cares the minimum.

We all know that Amazon has fake reviews and only cares the minimum.

We all know that Amazon "marketplace" is over-priced imports from AliExpress (if we're lucky!) or perhaps is refurbished goods, fake goods, or just scams.

The brand that sucks is Amazon. The seller that is ripping us off is Amazon.

This can't go on forever. They really are killing their brand. 10 years ago, Amazon had the reputation of a king. They were revolutionizing delivery and could do no wrong.

Today... you ask a group of people their opinion on Amazon and we're already up to half negative on average, at least where I am.

They are literally killing their own brand by doing this.

I leave reviews for two reasons: To reward a seller when I really like something, and to punish a seller when I really hate something. Rarely in between.

Well written reviews are a common good, and there is good reason to believe that leaving reviews encourages others to do the same, and that helps me, so I do it.

Yes, I know there'll be fake reviews, but most of the time they are pretty easy to spot.

Not least because the reviews that swing things for me -- both towards buying and away from it -- are the negative reviews.

Most of the obvious fake ones are good reviews, but I'm usually more concerned about what the worst thing someone has to say about a product. If someone posts about a printer that it doesn't work with Linux, I won't buy it (at least not without double-checking and verifying that said reviewers info is outdated) no matter how many positive reviews there are. Meanwhile, if I can't find any negative reviews complaining about things I care about it will often convince me to buy.

That is a lot harder to game than getting a bunch of people to write that they love the product.

You make good points, but on Amazon I just have to assume that all the reviews are fake. I've seen how easy it is to buy fake reviews, the lengths sellers go to get people to leave only 5-star reviews, and Amazon's inability or unwillingness to do anything about it.

Why do you think any of the reviews on Amazon are real? I think any random review you pull up is more likely than not to be fake. Of course, we can't know for sure, but Amazon has simply lost my trust.

I no longer believe any of the reviews on Amazon are real, and Amazon will have to prove to me they are before I ever trust a review on that site.

I think many of the reviews on Amazon are real because a lot of them are negative reviews warning people not to buy the product, and those are generally the ones I look at.

That's harder to game, because while a seller certainly could post a negative review citing some irrelevant flaw (and I have seen that), and hope that triggers buyers who don't care, they won't stop other people (like me) from posting negative reviews too, and what I'm looking for is products with a reasonable number of negative reviews where there is an absence of reviews mentioning things I care about.

I also know first hand from selling a novel on Amazon that you can perfectly well gain honest reviews in ways allowed by Amazon, and I also leave a reasonable number of reviews on Amazon myself, so I have every reason to expect at least a portion of the reviews to be honest.

Overall I've managed to avoid buying anything that appears to have been fake from Amazon, despite having bought a couple of thousand products at Amazon over the years (based on the order page stats, and taking off a few hundred as an estimate of digital only products)

Sellers also leave negative reviews for products from competing sellers.

This is irrelevant to me unless they 1) do so while describing specific flaws that I'll actually care about, and 2) every honest seller is affected by it.

It probably sucks to be an honest seller affected by it, but I've yet to find a situation where I have unable to find a product I'm happy with, so clearly they're not doing this often enough to affect me much.

I've seen 1 star "reviews" on products that directly reference a specific competing product or seller that the "reviewer" recommends instead. You'd think with all of Amazon's computing power they could detect obvious scams like that.

> “Why do you think any of the reviews on Amazon are real?

Because they contain facts which anchor them to reality and act as “proof of work” in some way.

I don’t care for a review which says “this camera takes amazing pictures” that could apply to any camera and is subjective, but one which says “the cover on the sd card slot is sharp and cut my finger twice” is likely someone who has used that specific camera, and has a specific comment, and while it could be faked - why would it be? Like the difference between house adverts that say “cozy kitchen” vs “marble countertops”, didn’t Freakonomics find that specifics increase value more than generalities because people know what a marble countertop is but a cozy kitchen is filler when there’s nothing good to say.

I think you've got the right idea. It's about incentives.

With fake positive reviews, the seller has an incentive to leave them up, and Amazon has no particular incentive to remove them -- you, a random user, has to somehow convince Amazon to take them down.

With fake negative reviews, the seller has an incentive to get them taken down, and has the data to prove that the reviewer didn't actually buy the item. (Actually buying all your competitor's items to leave fake negative reviews about them would dramatically increase the cost of the tactic.)

End result: ignore positive reviews because they're easily faked, check negative reviews because they're probably accurate.

Yeah, that's my heuristic too, but I'm worried it's going to get increasingly gamed as time goes on.

Especially since, you know, GTP-3 is a thing, and its effects are going to be felt pretty soon.

Why trust the negative reviews? I'm sure it is common to try to hurt the competition by leaving fake negative reviews. If a company is willing to buy positive reviews, why would they stop at buying negative reviews?

Worse, that way you would end up avoiding the "fair players" who don't leave fake negative reviews with the competition.

Depends on the negative review. You ignore all the "it sucks" reviews. But the ones that go into detail about why it sucks are usually accurate. At least in my experience.

And in terms of trying to game out the fake reviews, I've found relying on the 2 to 3 star reviews are the best. The liars who are trying to trash the product tend towards 1 star. The liars who are trying to sell the product almost always go for 5 stars. 2 to 3 stars, sometimes 4, are usually the people who actually bought it.

> Why trust the negative reviews?

Fake reviews aren’t all that cheap, in the scheme of things. Leaving bad reviews on the competition doesn’t have anywhere near the immediate impact on your bottom line as fake good reviews on your own products. I also haven’t seen reports of people being paid for bad reviews, when confessions of people being paid to write good reviews are all over the place.

If someone can post fake negative reviews on Amazon, Amazon can certainly afford to false flag negative reviews on everyone else. So either both parties are truthful or both parties are manipulative. Plus, it takes nontrivial effort to plausibly explain how a product is defective.

In case a popular product is simply handled by Amazon or other sellers, they aren't responsible for the quality itself. Bad review of a keyboard on one site is as valid as on another.

Because it has worked fine in avoiding bad products so far, and while it would suck for fair players to lose my business, as long as I avoid bad products that is what matters most to me as a buyer.

> My personal experience with Amazon is that it's the shop to go to for stuff that is ok if it is broken. If I buy a cable for £10, and there's a 10% chance it's faulty, it's not a huge problem for me.

I'm rather surprised at that, from someone who claims to be an economic grad. First of all, you must realize that that 10% isn't stable: the "Market for Lemons" effect will guarantee that if nothing is done to stop it, that 10% will become 90%.

Secondly, you're not factoring in either your time or the opportunity cost of having to buy your second cable. If you order your cable and it arrives the next day but broken, you spend at least an hour figuring out that it's broken, and then have to order another one, and then wait at least another day for it to come.

Amazon has a huge counterfeit goods problem, and buying from Amazon itself as opposed to a third-party merchant on the Amazon platform is no guarantee, because of their "commingled stickerless inventory" program.

Apple accessories in particular are heavily counterfeited, I'd bought some USB-Ethernet adapters for a meeting room with too much WiFi interference. They seemed to work fine then I got a new Mac and it refused to recognize the adapters, and they appeared with weird Chinese characters in System Profiler. On careful inspection, they turned out to be fakes, but highly convincing ones. Amazon refunded me, but the distinct impression I got was they don't care as long as they get the money from a sale, and refunds for the few customers who do complain are just a cost of doing business.


"First of all, you must realize that that 10% isn't stable: the "Market for Lemons" effect will guarantee that if nothing is done to stop it, that 10% will become 90%."

Are you sure? Is this ergodic? Does the ensemble average predict the time-series average?

But a cable is such a simple item to find out if it's broken, it takes 5 seconds, plus I can just buy two and be 99% sure I have one that works.

Akerlöf doesn't seem to apply here, there's no hidden information that comes out later. With a car there's all sorts of dimensions to it that might annoy you.

Perhaps the idea is that all cables will go to crap eventually, but my detection cost is also fairly low on that. Additionally, and this is probably not a great dynamic, I can go to the website of a box-store, which will carry some of the same brands, presumeably vetted more than the junk shop.

But a cable is such a simple item to find out if it's broken

5 seconds?!

Poor assumption. You're presuming this is "only the types of cables you buy". Many times I buy cables to do things with devices, for which I have no working cable already.


* My device stops syncing with my cable. Is it the device, or the cable? I buy a replacement cable, just in case.

Replacement cable doesn't work. Now I think it's probably the device.

I spent time here, checking to see what's changed, maybe an update, maybe a config setting, maybe something else. Or, is the device just broken? Do I send it away for repair?

* I want a cable to use with something I've had for years. Lots and lots and lots of examples here, all sorts of devices, like serial cables to debug with routers/switches, test cables, even just an ethernet cable, if you may not have had one before.

Now you test, and you can't tell. Is the port on the device bad? The settings you are using to connect? The device firmware? A problem with the port on the computer you're using to connect to the device?

Hours and hours wasted.

Worse, you advocate buying two. Great. This means that no matter what, I'm returning that spare cable. Now it's not '5 seconds' to determine it is bad, it's 'no matter what, I'm spending 20 minutes returning something I never wanted to begin with".

Frankly, I'd rather spend $10 extra on some types/classes of $20 cable, to have it pre-tested even.

> Akerlöf doesn't seem to apply here, there's no hidden information that comes out later.

The hidden information is how much quality control has gone into the manufacturing process. Seller A and seller B are both selling a cable for $10. Seller A bought thier cables for $8 because they spent a lot of time honing their manufacturing process and weeding out bad cables; the chance of getting a bad cable from them is 0.1%. Seller B bought their cables for $2, because they just went for the absolute cheapest option they could. The chance of getting a bad cable from them is basically 75%. You as someone buying it from Amazon can't tell the difference; so sellers like B make loads more money. Unscrupulous people hear about this and many more sellers like B show up. Sellers like A get frustrated and leave.

Seller B got their hands on the rejected cables from seller A. They were in fact paid to scrap them and instead are selling them after putting a sticker over a label.

>But a cable is such a simple item to find out if it's broken, it takes 5 seconds

This is so incredible false, cable quality varies greatly:

- wires, gauge and material. Copper is expensive and some cheat using aluminum or Al plated copper. Gold plated terminals, tinned copper, etc.

- wire material and single/multi strand determines resistance and current rating, along with loses in the cable.

- insulation and sleeves can be made from different materials with a lot of properties, incl. max temperature, flame retardant and so on: pvc - cheap, rubber - expensive, nylon/polyamid - expensive, silicon - very expensive.

And that just touches the basics...

"find out if it's broken" isn't the same thing as cable properties/quality.

If the cable fails to carry a signal, or fails to do so without interference, it should be pretty easy to determine this. Failure to do this would make it "faulty".

Lets say the cable catches fire due to high resistance/poor isolation (used at 40-50C or close to oven exhaust, causing thermal runaway) - is it broken? In that regard you can use a lamp cable to connect an oven - it will totally work for 5seconds, it might burn down later, though.

SO a QA process that tests for more than 5 seconds will find that.

> there's no hidden information that comes out later

Sure there is: How well a cable handles being bent, and whether or not it catches fire... Cables and especially chargers are some of the products I'm most cautious about buying from sellers I'm not confident about exactly for that reason.

(not that origin is sufficient - the one charger I have had that got closest to setting the house on fire was a genuine Apple charger [many many years ago, they had a design flaw with a too-short sleeve on the cable on the early Macbook chargers; it'd bend and short and melt])

Its even cheaper to just send it to known problem detectors, and outsource the work of flaw detection to the customer.

> I tend to think if I buy an iPhone on Amazon, it will be the genuine thing from Apple

Maybe, but in the UK I'd choose ten other suppliers before giving a penny of profit to a company like Amazon.

Tesco, Argos, the Apple store, Currys, any phone network, Carphone Warehouse, John Lewis...

Several of these have next-day delivery, same-day collection, or even the old fashioned walk-into-shop-and-pay thing.

Does doing that "walk into shop and pay" thing mean you also have to do that old "talk face to face with another human being" thing? Good lord, what would you have us do next? Go to market to buy some fresh meat & veg and prepare an actual home cooked meal?? /s

Not at Argos, the original catalogue shop.

They used to have large paper catalogues to browse (or take home), but now I think it's computers.

You can order and pay using a terminal in the shop, from a phone app, or by asking the assistant. You get a paper receipt with a big number (presumably something similar on the app, which I haven't used) and wait at the back.

After 2-3 minutes, your order number appears on a screen at the back of the shop. You show the receipt to collect it.

The image in the article shows most of it. Behind the photographer is usually a display of a few things: toys, bicycles, watches etc.


A massive portion of Amazon’s value in the early years were product reviews. To this day they are proud of pioneering this aspect of e-commerce. I remember using Amazon reviews in the 90s and 2000s even to weigh what I bought at bricks and mortar stores. It’s the same reason that sites like Yelp exist.

Perhaps most of the reason they were honest early on was Amazon’s product selection early on was only books and media, and secondly there was a community where you could look at other people’s review history to determine if they were a shill and report it. That “community helpfulness” was common in early online communities. I’d say the majority of reviews were real through the mid-aughts.

It was only after the Amazon marketplace became indistinguishable from the main site that the scale of sellers flipped the incentive structure towards cheating.

I'll buy an iPhone off Ebay before I'll go to Amazon for one, at this point - in fact I've done both. The ones I've gotten from Ebay were represented as new in box, and were in fact new in box. The one I got from Amazon was represented as refurbished, and wasn't - it showed up with a badly degraded battery and a chipped display, both of which I had to replace on my own dime. From the way it looked and was packaged when I got it, I feel lucky not to have found it stolen.

Outside the realm of phones, I've also been burned on camera equipment. I ordered a Nikon 200-500mm telephoto lens a few years back, which was represented as sold by Nikon. It proved not to be - by its serial number, it was actually a gray-market item intended for the Chinese market. That wouldn't happen with a sale direct from the manufacturer, and it also totally invalidates the otherwise very good manufacturer's warranty. It's a great copy of the lens and of new enough manufacture to have got past the teething problems, so I kept it. But that was the last time I bought something that pricey on Amazon, too.

Nikon's policies are what they are, and have been that way for longer than I've been alive. They're not what I have a problem with here. Amazon is, and at this point I'd only even consider doing business with them on similar terms to what you describe - small-ticket stuff that I don't really care if it's not what the seller claims it is.

But then, on the other hand, that leaves Amazon with no point for me at all. In the months since I placed my last order there, I've found small business e-commerce to be alive and thriving, and you know what? It turns out that when you place an order with Spice Place or Betty Mills or B&H or Adorama or whoever, yeah it takes a little longer to show up, but also what's in the box will reliably be what you bought! Wild, right? Even books, now, I get from Indiebound, or Ebay for obscure out-of-print stuff that's hard to find from regular booksellers. And for the basic staples of living, there are plain old regular stores. You can just walk into buildings and buy food and tools and things! You don't have to wait for anyone.

At this point, I'm about two-thirds seriously convinced that the whole Prime experience with next-day delivery is as harmful to the customer as it is to the drivers and to the neighborhoods increasingly choked with navy-blue panel vans. I know it exerted an unhealthy hold over my thinking for a lot longer than I'd have preferred in retrospect. It remains wild to me that Amazon found a way to make small-business ecommerce and brick-and-mortar retail look more appealing than itself, but they've certainly done a solid job of it, and I hope they keep it up.

Off topic, but I’ve found Swappa to be the best place to buy used phones. They’ve got great customer service and guarantees.

>... honesty is expensive and cheating is cheap. Why would we trust it?

Most people are well meaning and as long as the site isn't flooded with fakes it can work ok.

Are they really though? I know a lot of some people, who would consider themselves "well meaning" (fair, honest, just, whatever) and they totally do this all the time.

When you combine the actually bad people with those people, isn't 30-40% of the population constantly fucking with the system?

See also: Democracy. App store reviews. The soundscape. Climate change. Etc.

I'd guess about 99% are basically ok with reviews. The trouble is if only 5% of those bother reviewing and 1% of the bad ones post a bunch of fakes.

Incidentally I use argos.co.uk a bit and have found the reviews there always ok so far. Maybe Argos polices it or that crowd doesn't bother faking? It's different from Amazon in that there are no independent sellers so the only people motivated to fake would be the manufacturers.

I think it only becomes a problem when the system gets big enough. If there's 20 different online storefronts, it's a lot more time and effort to game the reviews on all of them, than if there's only Amazon.

As you say, that breaks down the second anyone decides to use fakes.

Honestly it didn't used to matter as much because the number of honest people leaving legit reviews outnumbered the influence of actors exploiting the system. But that was a while ago. But I swear at one point the fact that no one had skin in the game wasn't significant. People seemed to understand what they were for and used them accordingly. And the vultures hadn't discovered them yet.

There are other motivations than self-interest. People may altruistically care about other consumers' welfare. They may be reciprocal, taking revenge for a bad product by writing a bad review, and rewarding a good one. Or they may just like to express their opinions!

> Basically, honesty is expensive and cheating is cheap. Why would we trust it?

We shouldn't. And indeed, if you look at a random legitimate review of something it's unlikely to be particularly helpful. More users does not make the data better beyond maybe "was it dead on arrival?".

Platforms should empower users to build rings of trust with users they do trust, while keeping it as private as they're comfortable being. People will build social capital because it's useful, it's fun and for the top 0.01% of users is something that can be a job.

>skin in the game

I do write/have written reviews, incl. tear down pictures for some products as I'd be happy if I find similar approach/reviews.

Normally I read only 3 and 4 star reviews, or the ones that have disassembly pictures and seem to have been written by coherent people. It's a slow process, unfortunately but it does help with selection.

EU (and the UK) have 2y of mandatory warranty and 2weeks free returns, so the fake reviews are not so prominent.

> As an economics grad

This perhaps explains the rest of your comment :-) Often in economic theory it's assumed that people are totally rational, and often rationality is assumed to include sociopathic levels of self interest. Daniel Kahneman, the author of Thinking Fast and Slow, uses the word "econ" to describe the mythical creature that statisfies these properties. He makes the point that most people are not econs to some lesser or greater extent (either because they don't fully act in their own self interest or otherwise don't act fully "rationally" in the economic theory sense).

I often leave online reviews because I feel it's the right thing to do, even if I personally don't benefit from them. In part, I feel like they're payment for reviews others have left which I've used, even though an econ wouldn't bother because those other reviews would exist regardless of my "payment".

I do get your point towards the end of your comment that it's easy enough to come up with fake reviews, either by paying some econ-ish people or just using a machine. I'm talking more about the earlier point about recommendation from your neighbour only being reliable because of the consequences of a poor review.

You mean advertising?

Negative reviews are the only actual reviews.

These days, if I want an honest appraisal of a product then I prefix the search with "reddit" not "review".

Ahhhhh, economics is the study of maximizing socially acceptable sociopathy.

"It is economically infeasible for people to be helpful!" - the last human on earth, probably.

You'll do well. Keep the blinders on, read your Ayn Rand, don't think about things too much. Greed is good.

> I refused and asked them to process the refund. First they said they can’t process the refund technically without me pressing those buttons and then that their job depends on it.

People who are familiar with phone scam baiting will recognize this as a standard scam tactics. First go for the technical play and then emotional one. They can't scream on text so they don't jump to the angry one.

This must be some kind of common sales technique then perhaps because I recently experienced this same playbook at a car dealership with the sales manager. After pulling out technical arguments as to why they couldn't do the price we agreed upon over email anymore, they went the emotional route and bluntly told me that I was hurting the well-being and livelihood of the sales person I was dealing with by not accepting their higher offer. I came in ready to purchase, but at that point, I exited as quickly as possible. This was supposedly a reputable dealership for a major car brand.

The counter is that your hurting my family etc... but I agree best to leave.

Was gonna say, "their job depends on it" sounds ike something straight out of a Kitboga scam baiting video.

Tangentially, my Amazon account had been compromised. The person hacking my account bought amazon vouchers (fortunately the attached debit card was empty as i always keep cards i use online empty until i actually buy stuff).

Four days in a row i was told by different customer support reps that the voucher will be cancelled in a few minutes (oddly enough i couldnt cancel it myself), and none actually did it all the while amazon tried charging my card and asking to update payment details. Since then, around 2 months ago, i stopped buying on amazon all together.

Oddly enough i usually get a notification when i login from a new device, but this time i didnt even tho the voucher was bought by someone in Panama (not sure if they used a real name or not but they sure weren't logging in from my device).

I've stopped purchasing items sold by 3rd party sellers on Amazon and it becomes a much better site.

Unfortunately it seems you can no longer filter search results by "Sold and Shipped by Amazon", you have to filter by "Available from Amazon Prime/free shipping" and then filter manually which is a pain.

Unfortunately, this is not enough anymore. Amazon commingles their legit inventory with 3rd party inventory that drop ships from their warehouses. They don't differentiate between the two inventories, so you can still end up with a counterfeit product; even when "Sold and Shipped by Amazon".

I've actually had better luck with 3rd Party sellers that ship on their own (not from an Amazon Warehouse). If they send you a counterfeit, their store reputation is going to take a hit. Though at this point, eBay might be a better option.

Lately, I've started buying direct from the manufacturer when possible, or shipped from B&M store. Their prices are the same, or better.

The 3rd party market place on Amazon has become Aliexpress with higher markups. Unless I have an immediate need and I can not find the item locally, I just order it from Ali.

Yeah I wish they'd just let me perma-select prime. Not even risking getting burned.

I didn't know they used to have that filter though. That would be super useful to make a comeback

I left a bad review for a returned Taotronics space heater and I got an email from a random gmail account with the offer of $65 ($50 and $15) worth of Amazon gift cards. I contacted Amazon and reported them. The agent claimed they would do something, but obviously I have no idea if they would.

The space heater in question had a very high rating. Now I know why.

- If something benefits Amazon, it's legitimate.

- If somethings doesn't benefit Amazon, it's abuse.

Their double standards are disgusting.

I’ve reported so many of these scams and nothing comes from it. If you really want to go deep into the dark side of amazon search for 2tb usb drives.

If someone wants to check how serious this problem can get search Amazon for "laser protection googles", check the prices of cheap googles and compare to their very high ratings. There is no way those cheap pieces of plastic can protect eyes from lasers, and there are tests in youtube to probe it. Amazon is allowing a horrible health problem for their customers, some people will have severe eye issues or can get blind for life.

You have very carefully tested the hypothesis that "neither Amazon nor its sellers care about good customer service or quality products".

The question is - what are you going to do with that information?

Five star garbage sells better than two star garbage. There is absolutely zero incentive for Amazon to fix this.

I just thought of something. One way customers can battle fake reviews is by always attaching a picture of the product with the review. So when you see 5* reviews for a shower enclosure and you scroll down through the comment section and see pictures of tennis balls you know something isn't right and you likely won't buy the product since the comments appear to be for something else.

There are some FB groups where users can make money by receiving some products, write a review then send it back. then they get something in return. its not super hidden as well

Funny enough, I saw two different 5 star reviews of some boots with the same amateur type photo.

> This review was not accepted by Amazon, saying that seller feedback should be given on the seller page.


Amazon has a team of like 50 researchers working on solving this problem.

Why don't they just put a "this review looks fake" button next to the helpful button?

Wire it into a neural net, don't make it a way to snipe competitors products.

ok, ok... probably not a realistic solution.

I've left a few reviews recently and one good thing I have noticed is they seem to be adding some checks (I think they're intentional).

Like you review a product and it says "overall rating 1-5" but below it will have subcategories like maybe "true to size 1-5" "value 1-5" or similar (can't recall the real ones).

Every once in a while they throw in a curveball like "warmth 1-5" which would make sense for a sweater but is nonsense for something like a plate or ssd. I just press [X] and figure it's a check for a fake reviewer. (either that or a fake reviewer added a nonsense category)

Or how about this:

1. Add a way to report solicitations for fake reviews. Ban companies that pay for fake reviews for a year and all their reviews above 3 stars are removed. Customers who report requests for fake reviews are given a small bonus; maybe a $5 credit or something.

2. Amazon themselves pretend to be sellers and solicit fake reviews from customers. If a customer reports the request for a fake review, they're given the same bonus but told that they were part of a sting operation. If the customer gives the fake review, they're banned from Amazon for a year, and all their reviews are removed.

Obviously some details need to be worked out: need to make sure the system can't be abused, need to make sure the fake review solicitation doesn't make real sellers look bad. But if done properly, ti should make the whole fake-review solicitation completely impractical.

The one with the customers won't work because creating a new account is trivial.

Actually, I think so is creating a new company to sell stuff on Amazon. Mind you, if your company is kicked off Marketplace, it has to rebuild its reputation and inventory and stuff.

But yeah, they should definitely mark companies that pay for reviews as dodgy. I don't think they would ban them - because ANYONE selling stuff on Amazon is earning them money - but they could do more.

I don't think the problem hurts Amazon enough though. It's not like people stop using Amazon because of bad reviews. And I'm sure Amazon is undercutting the market so that any competitor with good reviews is unable to compete.

Price beats everything, when it comes down to it.

> The one with the customers won't work because creating a new account is trivial.

Creating a new credit card isn't.

Actually it is. Have you tried ENO by capitol one or Privacy or any other VCC company. Folks use em to buy 300 pairs of shoes when the limit was 1 per customer.

#2 would be better if they just blackhole the reviews. Have folks go through the effort but never show them to to anyone except the company account.

It is clearly insufficient and I do not care why Amazon failed.

Amazon had 21$ billion income ( per https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_(company) ).

50 people is nothing for them, and it is basically ignoring problem.

Also, can you provide evidence that they have any people working on the problem?

But if their solution results in Amazon making less money, it will never ship.

I’d like to believe that they truly see the long term financial value of building more customer trust, but I can see this being a bit of a back burner project due to short term losses

They build the customer trust by taking financial hits - if you’ve been a long time prime customer they are good at refunding the purchase when you aren’t happy. It doesn’t protect others from ordering the same bad widget but you are at least satisfied not to make it a bigger issue.

That's not how Amazon works, they take a lot of 'short term losses in exchange for trust' decisions, like warning you if a product has increased in price since you added it to the wish list, possibly triggering additional research of competitors that might have it cheaper.

> they take a lot of 'short term losses in exchange for trust' decisions

I'm sorry, but I don't believe your statement. They're not doing enough about fake reviews, and definitely aren't doing enough about poor quality products, fake products, and poor products squatting over good / brand products. Their marketplace is not curated enough, and buying a product is a gamble.

There are a few posts about that; one I remember is that someone bought a book off Amazon, but got a fake / copy / low quality reproduction instead.

But whose salaries depend on Amazon selling more stuff.

I can actually confirm, that amazon invest heavily in this. However, they struggle with growing their team and their resources as fast as their (seller) business grows.

"However, they struggle with growing their team"

it means

"Amazon considers that unimportant and refuses to pay competitive wages"

Amazon had 21$ billion income in 2020, it is not a tiny company struggling for resources. ( per https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_(company) )

Why actually and not just confirm? Also, investing in something internally means absolutely zero as none of those investments seems to have paid off so far, since there has been absolutely nothing deployed or done by Amazon in public to fight the review spam.

I've seen other people say the same thing about fraudulent products but amazon hasn't taken the most obvious step, stopping commingling products, there. This makes me believe that they aren't serious about that issue and I don't see why I should believe they're serious about this one either.

Amazon loves fake reviews as long as they are 5 star. The more it looks like people buying stuff using amazon are happy, the better that marketing is for Amazon. Look at all these people who are so happy to be buying stuff on Amazon, so much better than the alternatives.

Amazon could clean this up and then watch the average drop. From the removal of the fake fives but also it makes it look more "socially accpetable" to leave 4 and 3 star reviews. So it costs Amazon to do the right thing by the people parting with money for stuff so they don't.

Amazon are well aware of /their/ incentives and when their incentives align with what looks to me a lot like fraud they'll play the plausibly deny game.

Or perhaps I'm wrong they don't know and there's nothing they can do. Amazon employees will probably confirm that.

I'm sure Amazon has some smart people looking at the numbers on this, but as just one anecdata, my family has been buying a ton of stuff from Amazon since they were just books. Now we buy things that are repeat purchases or a couple of trusted brands (e.g. Amazon Basics or Anker). For bigger purchases (like a medium-basic coffee machine) we're either looking at Costco and Target, or researching a lot on Consumer Reports. Wirecutter used to be good, but hard to trust these days too.

We definitely spend less at Amazon because of lack of trust and counterfeit concerns, and it seems directionally true for the HN crowd. That's got to be a worry for anyone at Amazon - if the people who were early adopters are starting to leave your platform, that's got to be concerning...

When it comes to Amazon reviews you never go by the average you go to scroll down to the actual reviews and read what the one and two star reviews are complaining about and decide if that is acceptable assuming it will happen with your purchase, IMHO.

Sort reviews by new. It’s amazing how many “5 star” items have an average of 2-3 stars when you look at the latest reviews.

I was looking for some L plates for my car. A lot of reviews called them “beautiful”... it is a white square with a letter L that sticks to your car... trying to find one which didn’t fall off or damage the car was far from trivial. Fortunately newer reviews mentioned damage or falling off or does the job which gave some steer.

I have been purposefully shopping elsewhere recently. Other sites are usually cheaper and there is less doubt about what is actually going to get received.

Sorting by new also usually exposes things like hijacked item or seller pages more easily

I love that Steam shows an average of recent reviews. I think it’s very telling that Amazon does not.

I thought the reason Steam had "recent reviews" was to account for patches/updates and so on?

Not sure why that wouldn't apply to other products. Product design/packaging/formulas change, as does a seller's customer service...

I change the sort URL parameter from &s=review-rank to &s=review-count-rank and tend to put more weight against products with thousands of decent reviews; if nothing in the category has hundreds of reviews, that's a sign to look elsewhere. Perhaps false optimism or a flawed heuristic, but seems to work out for certain categories of stuff.

A lot of reviews raise a red flag in my mind. Particularly, for products which are new. I’ve been burnt with counterfeit and low quality products with a large number of reviews.

Also just anecdata, but I’m the same way. I don’t mind buying commodity goods off of Amazon, but if I need to know that I’m truly getting product X of brand Y, I now typically go elsewhere, because I just cannot trust that I’m not going to get a counterfeit product. Over the years, I’ve received two counterfeit books and three counterfeit hardgoods from Amazon. That may not seem overwhelming, but it’s enough to break my confidence.

Same. I thought if you bought directly from Amazon instead of a third party seller, then you'd be safe from counterfeits. But it turns out they just mix all the third party stock in with the first party https://sellercentral.amazon.co.uk/gp/help/external/G2001414...

So now it's not safe to buy SD cards and USB sticks directly from Amazon either now

Get SD cards from B&H or Adorama. They serve the pro photographer community, who are ferocious about storage quality largely thanks to war stories from 20 years ago when flash memory really was a crapshoot - also why any new camera body released with only one card slot provokes a million old dudes to fuss about that one wedding shoot they lost in 2003 or whatever. But in this case it's to your benefit, since the media you get from those sellers will be what they say it is.

(I get mine from Micro Center. Kinda feel bad about not going to my local camera store, but the guy who owns the place doesn't really seem at home with technology. I don't even know if they carry UHS-II cards, but I get all my used gear there, and with the margin on that stuff it's not like I'm hurting them by getting a $80 SD card elsewhere...)

the question really is whether buying brand name goods vs consumables is a bigger market.

amazon might be OK with people going to a different place for brand name goods but continue to buy low cost, no-brand goods from amazon if that market is much larger.

> Over the years, I’ve received two counterfeit books and three counterfeit hardgoods from Amazon.

What I've been ALWAYS wondering when people say such things:

Did you seriously get them when buying from Amazon itself as vendor or are you conveniently leaving out the fact that you bought from some random company which uses the Amazon marketplace?

Because I really cannot believe that something as big as Amazon would be dumb enough to sell counterfeit goods under their own name, and people usually don't mention if they bought from Amazon or not when they say such things.

> Did you seriously get them when buying from Amazon itself

Does it matter ? I go to amazon.com, I give my money to Amazon, I receive a package from Amazon, so for me (and the average user) the one selling me a counterfeit is Amazon.

Yeah, this whole "marketplace" thing needs to die. I'm watching the exact same thing taking place in real time with a local shopping website that has started including external sellers and "facilitating" or "fulfilling" the order for them through their marketplace. One of the main things I'm noticing is that this "marketplace", as with Amazon, is being flooded with Chinese, unbranded knockoffs with fake pictures. Each actual product * every conceivable variation/renaming of product * every seller willing to sell it = huge explosion in products. (Okay, exaggerating a bit for effect there, but true to some extent).

The marketplace thing only kinda works if you have "dedicated" or "focused" or "themed" sellers that functioning within clearly defined niches/segments. Instead, you get a seller that randomly sells 15 kitchen towels, 3 garden ceramics, 50 woodwork jigs (really only 5, 50 variations), and 1 food product. Next thing you know, I'm searching through 50 pages of "school supplies".

I see it and treat more like a platform now, a marketplace. Like ebay. It just so happens that one of the biggest sellers there is Amazon itself. My usual process of buying - search for the product I need (generic term for simple items, or exact model), click on "prime only", this filters out a lot of shipments from China. Then either filter out, or carefully look at the seller of each product. Takes some time and getting used to, especially that UI isn't favouring this workflow.

Stock commingling means that you may buy a product that's sold and shipped by Amazon and still get some other seller's counterfeit. That seller simply claims to sell the same product as Amazon, with the same product code, and places it into an Amazon warehouse. Amazon will ship from the place closest to you so they might just ship what they think is the correct item from another seller's stock even if it's actually a counterfeit, and do the clearing later. They later assign one genuine item from the Amazon stock in another warehouse to the seller's stock.

As a buyer you have no control over this and Amazon does their best to be opaque and not allow buyers to publicly flag issues beyond a return and refund because it would reflect poorly on Amazon's image and make them look like peddlers of cheap knockoffs.

> Does it matter ?

If you can't do the due diligence of even reading the one word that declares from whom you're buying then yes, it matters, it is your fault to be that careless.

> If you can't do the due diligence of even reading the one word that declares from whom you're buying

I'm buying from Amazon. From my point of view the other company is not more than a supplier.

If I am the one at fault is not really the point. I will learn my lesson and shop elsewhere, in the end it is Amazon that suffers: if I shop from a big brand's website I expect them to be the ones to do the job of filtering out the crap, not me.

(And this is not even taking into account the issues of amazon commingling the inventory and not fighting properly the fake reviews)

What I hear you saying is that Amazon can't be trusted to police their own marketplace, their brand is worse than worthless in that it is an active signal of distrust, and I might as well go to eBay - actually I might better go to eBay, who have much more experience with this same problem and are much more likely to address it effectively. Duly noted.

Amazon.com and marketplace inventory commingle. Pickers don’t care which box seemingly identical products come from.

Maybe if Amazon made it easier for buyers to filter out marketplace vendors, or didn't automatically co-mingle inventory between themselves and Fulled by Amazon vendors, it would be a lot easier to cut them some slack?

Amazon stock is commingled with marketplace sellers, so even buying directly from Amazon isn't a guarantee that you're not getting fakes nowadays https://sellercentral.amazon.co.uk/gp/help/external/G2001414...

If I use "marketplace", the company that appears on the credit card bill is Amazon. So they're the one with the contractual relationship and who should be held responsible.

Definitely, if it's food or health/medical, I'll skip Amazon & buy it from Target or Walmart directly (not a 3rd party seller on their platforms). Other categories like memory cards, kids products, I'll also avoid Amazon (especially since Amazon reviews of those products often claim they received a fake).

The online version of Walmart now sources from a range of suppliers like Amazon does. I was tracking down the supplier of a used laptop and discovered an eBay posting with exactly the same text and photos.

This might also be helping their Amazon brands. Easy to stand above the crowd in terms of quality this way. Also, they have all the data they need to target the most profitable / fragmented segments.

I buy a lot of stuff on Amazon, some of it I know is a cheap knockoff, but at least I’m paying cheap knockoff prices.

But things I won’t buy on Amazon are SD cards or water filters for my fridge. You end up paying full price for a cheap knockoff. I’m sure there are others, but these two stand out in my mind.

Amazon is basically my last resort these days. Unfortunately, the ongoing pandemic means there are times where I can’t justifying going out to buy something. But I wonder if they’ll be taking a bigger than expected hit once things clear up.

Maybe there is a big difference between the US and Europe, but here the only things I can't find anywhere but amazon are typically the cheap Chinese knockoff things (e.g. new cushions for my bose headphones), for everything else there always is a cheaper solution by going with one of the smaller online retailer.

That way I don't have to go through the horrendous amazon interface, which I have the impression tries to actively prevent you from finding what you want. Similar to the strategy of large supermarkets that rearrange goods to maximize customer time at the shop.

Even here in Europe, Amazon still has the monster competitive advantage of Prime. If not for that, I would probably be buying all my gear from Saturn, Mediamarkt, etc.

It's also worth nothing that European Amazon has waaaay less stuff available in general than US Amazon.

What happened to Wirecutter?

I just discovered Wirecutter and have been happy with it so far (just bought a new toaster oven!). I'm also curious why they're throwing shade


Sorry, what? The situation we're complaining about is more like this:

> Steve can't normally afford nice things, but he saves up to buy a nice coffee maker on Amazon, paying close to $100 and expecting to receive a product that will last decades. However, Steve receives a counterfeit product in the mail that breaks just a few days after the return window.

With most of these products, you're paying full price but getting an inferior product in return.

Or worse, it's not actually UL approved and burns Steve's apartment down.

I am very wary of buying anything electrical on Amazon.

I don't understand how having a problem with counterfeit goods and fake reviews comes from a place of privilege.

They're going after a lower-end market by turning a blind-eye to counterfeit brand-name goods sold on their platform?

My mother-in-law no longer buys anything of significance from Amazon after being burned with counterfeit materials.

I carefully check reviews, use fakespot, etc.

There is a point where the eroding of trust will be significant enough to affect the bottom line. Eventually most people know to not trust Amazon reviews, soon it will be.

I would do anything to filter out those weird spelling Chinese brands that always clutter my searches.

Likewise. If I see that there are ten sellers for what is (often very obviously) the exact same thing, I know it's crap and the reviews are fake. This would be so easy for Amazon to detect and filter themselves, but they don't. As it is, I end up having to click through to the second or third page of results before I even find anything unique enough to be worth running through fakespot/reviewmeta.

How are so many people buying counterfeit stuff on Amazon? What are they buying? Why would someone copy it? Are they just looking at price?

Here’s an example from real life just last week. Clorox ToiletWand Refill. Go look on Amazon, I’ll wait here. You’ll find many different sellers, some obviously “third party”, and some that look original but when you delve into the reviews you find stuff like this: https://imgur.com/9vyE8kq

I didn’t want to buy a toilet cleaner that would fall apart and make me fish it out of the toilet, so we went and got them from Target instead.

Amazon needs to separate out the ebay-style new/used peer-to-peer marketplace from the more trusted "Sold by Amazon" stuff.

Both marketplace types are useful (especially for books), but consumer goods need some kind of notice when you're buying from anyone other than Amazon.

I don't understand why counterfeiting isn't just an immediate ban for the vendor. Isn't this a huge liability risk? Or do the get some protection because they're just the "marketplace", like a common carrier?

Amazon comingles inventory. I doubt Amazon knows which vendor supplied the product that was reported as a counterfeit. Even if they did what would stop someone from opening BarCo after Amazon closes FooCo's account?

And the item with counterfeits is the first hit from google ...

A lot of the time it's stupid things like advertising a product is glass or crystal when it's actually clear plastic. I got burned by that once. I've also seen manufacturers get burned when they put their branded merchandise up on Amazon only to have a clone/ copy sell under the same SKU. The manufacturer ends up fielding the returns, getting the 1 star reviews, and has little ability to prevent the copycat products.

It's not always "Nike" or some big brand, often it's smaller brands who have built up a reputation but don't have the legal team to fight with Amazon and protect their product from pirates.

It’s anything. Even minor brands.

My brother was gifted some magnets (strong like bull).

He wanted more, so Amazon had them. They’re not that expensive, but they fell apart. My brother contact the business owner and sent some pictures.

They were counterfeit..

They small business owner sent my brother new ones though, which was nice of him.

Order directly when you can.

Certain things it's impossible to avoid - I'm trying to buy 18650 batteries for a flashlight and it's overwhelming trying to find legit sellers. There are some classes of products where it's really hard to tell what's real (reviews not matching product description, obviously fake 5-star and 1-star reviews etc.)

This is where independent resellers via Shopify, their own cart system, etc. have a chance. There's no way to be sure you're getting a real battery from Amazon so I always buy this type of thing from a community-trusted independent vendor that has a real account with authorized suppliers.

It might cost more in shipping and delivery time, but it's strongly preferable to having my desk catch fire due to missing or defective safety components, which are very common among knockoffs. At least there's someone to sue if that happens with an authentic battery.

Shopify is a clusterfu*k of scripted random generated pop-up stores that have no intention of delivering what they promise, most shopify stores are worse than wish.com in my experience

You still have the brand problem with shopify - anyone can spin up a shopify store selling low quality products.

If you can run a shopify site as part of a known brand that helps of course.

Yup, I've completely abandoned Amazon for ANY kind of battery, and other categories of products (and I've been buying from Amazon for two decades).

I last (foolishly) tried again a few weeks ago for some SR44 cells. Should be easy, right? Nope, after digging into scores of bogus products and reviews, Fakespot, etc., it was just obvious that there are zero trustworthy products in that category. I found another battery specialist supplier, even tho they had a bit longer lead time and no free shipping.

(and don't even get me started on Amazon's lame search and sorting functions)

I think for generic sizes Amazon basics are fine. Costco is also good for routine sizes. It's the more exotic/industrial sizes that get tricky.

It's hard to attribute the lame search and sorting to incompetence at this point, it's starting to seem more like active malice.

Totally agree about the searching. I've considered seeing if Amazon has anything resembling an API, or if using some kind of screen-scraping was possible to create an overlay app that would do actually usable searching, but figure they'd just shut it down legally or technically, since good searching is obviously not what they want. It is so obvious that they don't want good searching that the structure their databases in such a way as to ensure that the result is what I call Data-Mush. E.g., the size and weight of the item needs to be two separate sets of fields, clearly identified for the dims/weight of the item itself, and the dims/weight of the packaged item. Yet there is zero consistency or clarity on even that most basic data. Yuk

On the batteries, even the common 18650 is a hopeless cause, at least if we want to get a battery that is what it claims.

A long time ago, it was useful to sort by average review, but now, I need to look at summing the percentage of 1+2-star reviews, and eliminating the high scores, then among the least-bad, check those for bad reviews (e.g., shipping failure, not the vendor's fault, etc.).

It has become a massive chore to use Amazon and hope to get something that is not crap, so evidently, the management there is optimizing for quantities of crap over quality.

Not sure how much this will help for batteries but I've found it helpful for other products, go to the manufacturer's site and try to find a list of authorized distributors. Most of the time you'll find that an authorized distributor also has an amazon store front. Not sure if it still avoids the stock co-mingling problem though if it is stocked through an amazon warehouse.

Have you tried 18650batterystore.com? I had very nice experience with them.

As a little experiment for other HN readers out there, try this:

Pick out a few random words here: https://www.randomlists.com/random-words . Put those few random words into Amazon's search bar and then order the list from most to least expensive. Then scroll down a bit. This should give you a pretty good selection of a random set of 'real' items. Do this, say, 3-4 times to get ~10 random items not influenced by your search history (presumably). Open them up in new tabs for easier organization. Now, go into a few of those items and try to say that they are 100% not 'fraudulent'.

How many could you get through before you gave up in frustration? Personally I got to about 5 before I gave up trying to determine if they were junk or not.

There is even a counterfeit book problem on Amazon

A big one. I used to spend a lot of money on textbook-grade books from Amazon, but I've mostly stopped now. There's a veritable deluge of people reporting getting copies that are obviously Xeroxed, or photo scanned and printed on cheap paper. It's just not worth the risk.

I'm not surprised! The price of text-books is such that even getting one or two sales out of an account could make a counterfieter decent money

Even the ones that Amazon sells themselves (not "fulfilled by Amazon"): https://twitter.com/nostarch/status/1183095004258099202

Considering that after almost 25 years there is still no functionality for reporting listings as being fraudulent or counterfeit, that tells you exactly where amazon's priorities lie.

As soon as they implement that feature they'll be swamped with reports on every product regardless of whether it's fake or not. Rival sellers will use it to try to monopolise a product, annoyed customers will use it to take revenge on genuine sellers, and occasionally people will report an actual fake. Unless it's much better than a simple report function it won't work.

I would presume that most people that buy reviews for their own products would ask for them to be 5 stars.

I wonder if anyone is deliberately paying for bad reviews of their competitors' products?

Or perhaps disgruntled customers [possibly who purchased an artificially inflated 5 star item only to find it garbage].

To me, that's actually the correct use of the system. I was thinking more in terms of people deliberately gaming the review system.

I'm sure some do, happens in the restaurants and hotel ratings systems, too (yelp, Google, trip advisor).

It would be interesting to know how often this happens compared to buying the 5 star reviews. My guess would be that the fake negative reviews for competitors are less than 10% of the total fake reviews.

If you look at the review average, Amazon skews the numbers anyway. It’s a weighted average.

If they sorted this out and the average reviews started to drop, they could very easily adjust this algorithm and never tell anyone and they’d be fine. I don’t think this is the problem

> Amazon loves fake reviews as long as they are 5 star.

Do they? It's not immediately clear that an Amazon where the average item has 4.7 stars would sell more stuff than an Amazon where the average is 4.2 stars. Consumers mostly compare items against others on the same site and it's possible that all grade inflation does is make the top performing items harder to separate out and makes buying harder.

As a counterpoint, Uber suffers from ridiculous grade inflation and it doesn't appear to have made riders love them any more. It's simply resulted in everyone adapting to 5 = slightly above average, 4.9 = average, 4.8 = run away screaming.

> It's simply resulted in everyone adapting to 5 = slightly above average, 4.9 = average, 4.8 = run away screaming.

Just out of curiosity from someone who doesn't use Uber, is this an exaggeration or meant pretty much literally? (Not with regard to running away screaming... but is 4.8 genuinely a terrible score?)

"Uber tells drivers online. “If your rating over the most recent 100 trips is below a 4.6, your profile may be at risk of deactivation.”"

from https://qz.com/1038285/uber-will-make-riders-explain-when-th...

(citation is dead - not sure where Uber keeps this info now and is it even public)

The archived citation: https://web.archive.org/web/20170225191129/https://www.uber....

Another quote from that:

"If your average rating falls below a 4.3 after your first 25 trips, your profile will be deactivated and you will need to take a quality improvement course in order to be considered for reactivation."

I had a driver once in Poland who told me she was avoiding Asian riders because they didn't give 5* scores, while other customers did, and it was affecting her rating. For some reason in western countries it's assumed no problems == 5*. Would be good if there was a baseline to be able to separate what is "alright, nothing to complain but nothing special either" and "exceptional".

My local Toyota dealer has contacted me after I've used them for a service to ask that I give 5/5 on the feedback form that I get sent. They say that if they get lower than 5 from a few customers, they get a visit from head office. But 5 is "excellent" while 4 is "good", and being British, I tend to go with "good" when they did just what I asked.

Yeah. "All went well" should be a totally acceptable base line, with room above and below. (especially since the "above range" can be quite subjective and/or down to luck)

Its very cultural thing and I suspect it depends if the country uses grading to the curve in schools /uni's.

IIRC Uber will put drivers on notice if they're rating approaches 4.6

Jesus Christ. What's even the point of a 5-star system then? It should be a very simple two option system. Was the ride safe? Did you get where you were going? Then hit the thumbs up button. Otherwise hit the thumbs down button. Or even better, no rating system at all and just provide the option to file reports in bad cases, with that report information being made public in some sense. This idea that rideshare drivers need to be offering entertainment while they drive in order to ensure 5 stars is offensive. When people took cabs, nothing like this happened. A cab pulled up, you got in, they drove, if they tried to take a long route you complained, then you paid your money and got out. End of transaction. Most were good, some were bad. The fact that the cabbie was able to hold and maintain their job was the source of trust you needed to have confidence you would arrive intact.

> This idea that rideshare drivers need to be offering entertainment while they drive in order to ensure 5 stars is offensive.

I find that especially annoying because I don't want to be entertained. I want to get from point A to point B while minding my own business (looking through the window if I'm in a new city or reading something on my phone if not). I don't want to hear about the driver's cryptocurrency adventures, and I don't want them to apologise to me if some other driver cuts them off or something.

Of course I'm gonna give them five stars regardless because I know how ride shares work.

"Uber tells drivers online. “If your rating over the most recent 100 trips is below a 4.6, your profile may be at risk of deactivation.”"

from https://qz.com/1038285/uber-will-make-riders-explain-when-th...

(citation is dead - not sure where Uber keeps this info now and is it even public)

Amazon has become exceedingly dishonest over the last few years.

They deleted my negative review of the Kindle with no explanation or recourse.

Since maybe November, a couple of things I've ordered (shipped and sold by Amazon) were listed as new but were very clearly used. One of these items was a piece of safety-critical equipment that was dangerously damaged and could very likely have caused death or dismemberment if someone with less experience had received the item and tried to use it. I assume some clueless Amazon warehouse worker eyeballs returns and tries to figure out if they can plausibly trick the customer into thinking it's a new item, and if so they put it back up for sale as "new".

I don't get why Amazon loves fake five star reviews. It's put me off them completely and I'm no longer a customer. Are you sure that this is accurate?

Disruptive solution proposal: Get rid of the review system entirely. Stars, comments, user pictures; eliminate all of it. For everyone.

There. Problem solved.

Good idea. Just list percent returns instead.

I don't know about elsewhere, but Amazon India has been slowly phasing out returns for replacements. It used to be fairly easy to get a return on Amazon, but now almost every product I've bought in the past year or so (and that's a lot of stuff in a variety of categories, thanks to the pandemic) has been replacement-only. If someone gets a fake product, I doubt they'll look for a "replacement", so I'm not sure switching to a return% will be good enough either.

This is, of course, in addition to other issues with removing reviews, such as lacking nuance on why something was returned, etc. I've seen some stellar reviews on Amazon that went out of their way to list the minutiae of a product and the experience of using it, and that's helped me out a lot in the past.

This is half of an idea... people still want/need guidance on purchases.

High quality, curated, independent reviews is probably something that most people would enjoy and appreciate.

That said, the current system is fairly worthless, and what little worth it has is based on hacking it by looking at a specific subset of reviews.

> people still want/need guidance on purchases

It’s funny because Amazon normalized folks needing reviews on things before buying it.

In a way, before Amazon you effectively did have 'quality, curated reviews' - in the form of what products brick and mortar stores chose to stock. Most decent stores aren't going to stock complete garbage, so if you found an item with the attributes you're looking for, it would probably work.

That is a deep and wise point :-)

There was also ebay feedback which was key to shopping for a lot longer I'd say.

This comment isn't entirely without merit. If Amazon could guarantee the genuineness of every product and description, and delivery times, is there any need for star ratings? Reviews are better because it's easier to differentiate between fake and real reviews for now ( as fake reviews usually contain grammatically incorrect sentences, multiple copies with different names etc )

That's what we have done at the marketplace I'm running in the UK. There are no seller ratings and users are encouraged to share feedback.

I don't think reviews are bad, but I think 5 stars is.

Should just be thumbs up, thumbs down. Maybe a "meh" in between.

Alternatively, ask for ratings as 5 star, treat 4 as a meh, and anything 3 or below as a thumbs down.

No please don’t Netflix the Amazon reviews. There is a huge advantage in granularity. Everything in life isn’t so binary, where you either loved or hated it. There is so much gray area in between that makes ratings useful. Netflix neutered their whole rating system when they introduced the thumbs up and down system.

I don't find it useful granularity. It just adds noise.

Product has <huge major flaw>. 4 stars.

Product was a slightly different shade than the picture. 1 star

Stars are also not very granular, vs stuff related to the product itself.

Google's "does this place offer wifi?" type questions seem better than reviews

There are lots of weird things that happen in reviews (from real people). I've often come across three-star reviews which say:

"Product was awesome, but shipping took three days, not one".

There are other reviews I've found useful, for example ones that point out minor flaws. That ability would be lost if you had a simple "good/bad" reaction only.

And how exactly does that solve the problem?

Because the truth is that the reviews are probably almost all fake. Who the f**k IRL takes the time to log back in and leave a product review when the product arrives? I've never done it, and I used to buy from Amazon quite a lot.

> Who ... takes the time to log back in and leave a product review when the product arrives?

Nice people who want to help others out, and angry people who want their money back.

This is somewhat true. I review only when am highly impressed or thoroughly disgusted with a product. So-so products where I got more or less what I hoped for, and which is not too highly differentiated from alternatives, I don't bother with reviewing them.

I do it. It’s easy because the site prompts me to do it. And I’m happy to help future buyers.

This was what most people did when they bought things online even 15 years ago. I used to leave reviews for almost everything in the 90s and early 2000s. Amazon was a community. At some point of scale that changed.

Unfortunately some people are dumb enough to give Amazon free business. I used to be that naive myself.

That would be very stupid

I thought this place liked disruption.

Disruption often means to offer an alternative, better solution to a poorly solved problem. You seem to be suggesting we don't try and solve the product validation problem at all!

Replace reviews with raw data - total number of purchases (at this price and version), return rate, etc.

How does that tell you if the product is any good though? Popularity doesn't automatically imply quality.

It doesn’t - but if 80% of purchases end in returns you’d know to stay away.

A reputable distributor would stop carrying it.

I feel like the fake reviews are merely the tip of the iceberg.

Over the last 5-10 years, Amazon's main shopping website seems to have gone from a reasonably reputable location to an internet cesspool to rival ebay or craigslist.

For example, looking for an item one is presented with a wide variety of almost identical products from a wide variety of almost identical, completely unknown brands, with no trust or confidence in any of them.

Now obviously, these brands/products are most likely nothing to do with Amazon, they're just using Amazon as their storefront, and sometimes fulfilment, but it still reflects upon Amazon, and ultimately taints their brand with the same brush.

Maybe Amazon makes more money in this way, by taking a cut of this flow through various service fees, but for me it makes Amazon less useful to go to when I don't know exactly what I want already, and more often pushes me to go direct to a more trusted source.

At least with ebay the items are cheaper and I know I'm buying bottom of the barrel stuff.

To be honest, they also sell high end stuff on ebay and you know it's going to be legit just based on the seller feedback and what the item is.

Half the time the manufacturer themselves are selling directly on ebay!

I'm just spitballing, but what do you guys think about this as a fake-resistant review system?

To list your product on Amazon as a seller, you pay $500 per year as a "review incentivization fee." The algorithm randomly selects buyers and emails them 1 month after their purchase. They are offered $10 to write a review. The chance of being randomly selected as a reviewer auto-adjusts to target a goal of 50 reviews per year, and no one except those people is allowed to post reviews. Also, reviewers can update their reviews later if their impression of the product changes.

If a seller wanted to keep farming reviews, they would now have to buy up the vast majority of their own inventory in the hopes of being selected. Also, my system prevents people who are experiencing one-in-a-million problems (or who are just habitually disgruntled) from dominating the conversation.

Many Amazon sellers openly solicit good reviews with a card included with the purchase promising discounts or gifts for good reviews.

This method would just increase that. "We'll pay you $100 if you get chosen and write us a 5-star review" would be a reasonable offer for both buyer and seller.

If I got that offer I would post the 5-star review, claim the $100, and then edit my review to say "They tried to bribe me. 1 star. Photos attached as proof."

But you're right, I think that's a legitimate issue. I'm not saying my plan is perfect, but I'm pretty sure it improves on the status quo.

Review deleted. Seller feedback should be posted to the seller page.

In that case, I post the 5-star review, claim the $100, delete my own review, and post negative seller feedback.

This its a no loose situation for the seller

It might reduce the incentive for the seller to deal with post-sales problems after that 1-month period. Once they see a person hasn't been selected, they can ignore any of their support requests without worry of a bad review.

They could still leave seller feedback. Amazon has both seller feedback and product reviews two separate metrics and seller feedback impacts a sellers standing on Amazon where as product reviews only reflect on the product.

Sounds good, may want to tweak the parameters. $500 is a lot to get skin in the game for a small seller, $10 seems good, but then a month is probably not long enough. I buy a lot of tools and machines and gadgets, those are probably best reviewed after 1-2 years of use.

>1 month after their purchase.

Way too short time for almost anything that's not a direct consumable.

>They are offered $10 to write a review.

That's too low (or too low depending on the product), negative experience is a lot more likely to be vented.

Sounds similar to sortition: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sortition

The only fake-resistant review system is one read by critical people.

The problem the star average is used as the only proxy for quality. Even without fake reviews it's completely meaningless since different people like different things (relevant XKCD: https://xkcd.com/937/).

When I buy things I look at what people complain about when they dislike the product. Is this electronic badly grounded and gave you an electric shock? I'll look somewhere else. Did you give this gay bar a 1-star review because they didn't let you in with the rest of your hen party? Awesome!

Sellers already pay people to write reviews– and compensate for the product. How is this system any different?

> If a seller wanted to keep farming reviews, they would now have to buy up the vast majority of their own inventory in the hopes of being selected.

They already have 100 people buy their product and fully pay for it for a review.

It's different because it has Amazon randomly selecting who gets paid to write a review, and the reviewer doesn't have any incentive to lie since they get the $10 regardless.

Sellers are currently paying people (in money and product) for 5 star reviews, which is exactly the problem I'm trying to solve.

The seller merely includes a promotion - leave a good review, receive a gift card (or straight up refund for cheaper products).

Your system may have minor chance of success if there was no way for the sellers to contact customers.

You're just describing the Early Reviewer Program and suggesting all other reviews be banned.

Reviews are broken. There needs to be a web of trust for reviews. I would weight a review from somebody I know or trust 1000x more than every Amazon or online review ever left.

It's not just store reviews that are broken - web search is also completely broken because of affiliate spam

I spent far too much time at the moment with each purchase researching and tracking down trusted reviews.

My solution: only read negative reviews. They're much more telling. As a bonus, they'll often kill impulse purchases, saving me money.

They’re way too negative and usually list weird one off problems or shipping issues.

The real action is 3 star reviews. Those people have really given a lot of thought to the review.

Also the reviews with pictures tend to be useful.

> They’re way too negative and usually list weird one off problems or shipping issues.

That's presumably why they said "read" the negative reviews. Obviously you don't then base your decision off negative reviews that turn out to not matter.

This is a useful trick for quickly vetting just about anything that's outside your area of expertise. Often a simple search like "X sucks" or "X is bad" can be very telling. It's a good sign when it's difficult to find well written negative reviews. Of course, there are many misguided negative reviews, but they can still help you make an informed decision.

It's not a completely foolproof solution, because competitors with dirty tactics can write fake negative reviews.

Almost no one write 3 and 4 star reviews out of spite.

I agree, sometimes the complaint is a niche problem resulting from the buyer's false expectation but, generally speaking, I've avoided buying a lot of products.

Recent example, shredders all have great 5 star reviews but only the odd negative will point out the obvious problem that cheap shredders are made cheaply and will break in a short space of time.

Unless it’s a really big ticket item I’ve given up on product research as the investment is just not worth my time. I just buy whatever Wirecutter tells me to; usually they’re not too wrong.

OMG wire cutter. Affiliate advertising once removed.

EDIT: NextDesk scandal aside, when was the last time you saw WireCutter recommend a product that did NOT offer affiliate commissions (let’s just call a spade a spade: these are kickbacks).

I don’t use WC anymore so I can’t answer that myself. I stopped using them when I saw some companies completely ignored in 2 different industries with which I’m familiar. Those companies did not have kickbacks.

Yes, they will never recommend something they can’t monetize. But they also do some basic product testing and I’ve yet to get actual crap buying their recommendation. If I’m getting something under $100 they get me a good enough solution and save me a lot of time. It’s just not worth the research cost to do better.

I guess the paid alternative is consumer reports, but I feel like they’re not noticeably better.

Have you found a good alternative to wirecutter?

I am sure there are plenty of honest reviews on the internet, tucked into enthusiast sites or on personal blogs. It's hard to find them unless you're a member of their community. Unless they review a lot of products, you have no continued relationship with them. This means you can't evaluate your opinion of their reviews (as to trustworthiness, or even just taste).

Surely anyone who devotes a lot of time and money to reviewing products is going to want to be (and deserves to be) paid. That means direct payment has to come from the customer, or the business.

The "business pays" model has an incentive to exclude businesses that don't pay, to push you towards more expensive items, and in general to get you to buy shit you don't need. But at least the reviewer has some skin in the game, since you won't continue to buy through their referral links if they recommend too many products that are too bad.

The "customer pays" model seems to solve a lot of the incentive problems, but it's always hard to get people to pay for something that others are giving out for free (even if the free ones are occasionally subpar or even harmful!)

Ultimately, I'm not really sure I see "buyer pays" review sites as terribly unfair? Surely they'll just pass the cost on to customers. Some of the businesses, like NextDesk, seem to find the process unfair. I have some sympathy for them, but the reality is that the products I've bought based on Wirecutter recommendations tend to be better. I don't have the time, or even the ability these days, to pick through search results trying to figure it out for myself.

Maybe I will give Consumer Reports a try, but is the cost of the subscription (of which I don't know the utility), and the lock-in, worth the marginal cost of missing out on great products like NextDesk? Does Consumer Reports even give more complete surveys of options than Wirecutter? Hard to say. I think I would go insane if I spent any more time than I already do looking for "truth" on the internet.

If you don't mind paying and can handle German, Stiftung Warentest is very reliable. I only wish similar organizations were more widespread.

https://www.test.de, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stiftung_Warentest

In the UK there is an organisation called Which? They publish a magazine and have a paywalled site with reviews of most household products.

Their reviews are more trustable than from a regular affiliate site but a lot of products score quite well despite being mediocre at best.

I've recently had bad experiences with wirecutter's recommendations. I no longer trust them. It started a little before the NYT acquired them but the downward momentum accelerated from there.

The biggest flaw I see is their product selection process, it always involves looking at the amazon top sellers. Those are usually filled with astroturfed, paid and bribed reviews.

Honest question: have you found something better? Or do you just do all your own research now?

I haven't found anything better. It's back to my own research and conclusion. I miss the days when sorting Amazon's best selling item was the way to go, adding reddit as a keyword to the search query for best X or even sorting Newegg ratings by best. Nothing seems trustworthy anymore.

I don't mind spending the time researching things because the frustration of owning something that isn't up to usually snuff costs more time, grief and money.

All that being said, here are a few sources I still respect:

* Appliances: Consumer Reports * Kitchenware: America's Test Kitchen * Hardware: Project Farm (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2rzsm1Qi6N1X-wuOg_p0Ng/vid...) * TVs/Monitors/Audio: (https://www.rtings.com) * Gym Equipment: GarageGymReviews (https://www.garagegymreviews.com) * Laptops: (http://www.notebookreview.com)

Actually Wirecutter has gone down the toilet and is just as scammy and pay to play as everything else now.


It seems like the only hope for a solution here is competition? One would assume review sites need to both be more honest, and take a smaller commission, before they gain market dominance.

I think we need this too, but I'm skeptical it would work. I'm afraid most of us don't know/trust enough people. For example, I'm considering buying a sofa from store X, but no one I know has ever bought from store X.

There's a good chance that the items you're most ignorant about are also the items your friends are most ignorant about (or at least enough of them that it'll significantly reduce the quantity of the feedback).

Also, once this became a thing, once it became monetizable, my web of trust would shrink drastically. I mean, geez, I'm even suspicious of my doctors prescriptions.

Maybe we need professional reviewers with a transparent system in place to protect against manipulation (as much as possible). Something like Consumer Reports on a larger scale.

One solution as a consumer is to buy from a place you trust. It would be nice if there was a version of Amazon that didn't have 3rd party sellers and only consisted of reputable (verified supply chain) products.

Since Amazon is not providing this, one example of a place to shop is Costco in person. Things sold by Costco are generally reliable enough. On top of that, Costco has a generous return policy so I can buy whatever I need. If it was truly unusable/broken, I can return it easily.

Part of the reason I continue to shop on boutique eCommerce sites, for lack of a better term, is that a store with a good reputation can essentially verify it's own catalogue. I know if I buy for X or Y store they will have chosen the best product for the job, because their store's reputation is built on their ability to curate good products.

In the UK we have John Lewis which is a department store with a decent reputation. OK, they are far from perfect, but their product range is curated to the point that when you search for, say, a toaster, you're not overloaded with 1000's of options and their own customer reviews seem to be quite genuine.

Anything over £100, I tend to default to John Lewis rather than amazon.

Can confirm, its a shame they stopped delivering to the EU :/

There’s no incentive to fix reviews. Amazon doesn’t gain anything neither does the company selling the product. Unless you’re willing to pay money for reviews, reviews will never factor in the consumers’ interest. People aren’t willing to pay for content.

I'm really sad that APlus (the first incarnation) never really took off. Their review system where you would ask e.g. your tech-friend for tech-recommendations, and those are then visible to any other friends (I think that's how it worked?) seemed really nice.

Is there a review system where I can see just my friends' reviews? Eg browsing for a phone and I see my buddy's review, you see your buddy's?

I have no friends.

Web of trust doesn't scale. This isn't broken because most reviewers can't be trusted. It is broken because a very very few actors are abusing these systems. As someone above pointed out, Amazon can fix this. It isn't a hard problem. The issue is, their incentives are not aligned with fixing it.

Google tried this in the Play Store. People hated it because it was super creepy.

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