One thing we love about Amazon.com is its review system. What, then, if the system is gamed?
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That’s exactly what happened with VIP Deals, a (now former) company with an Amazon.com storefront that paid customers to give it five-star reviews. Three customers told the New York Times that VIP Deals enclosed a letter in the shipping package for the ViperTek leather case for the Kindle Fire ($10). According to the report, the letter asked the customer:
“… to write a product review for the Amazon community. In return for writing the review, we will refund your order so you will have received the product for free.”
To be clear, the letter did not specify that a five-star review was required. It did, however, hint that a five-star review would be preferred, saying “We strive to earn 100 percent perfect ‘FIVE-STAR’ scores from you!”
This is a definite violation of Amazon.com’s Terms of Service for resellers. However, the company was oblivious to the fake reviews until the New York Times provided its information to them. Strange, because some reviews were not just negative, they actually exposed the scheme.
For example, a customer named Robert S. Pollock wrote in a review he titled “scam,” “This is an egregious violation of the ratings and review system used by Amazon.” What’s worse is that he was chastised by another customer, who, it turns out, was himself a seller on Amazon and admitted not just being given but also himself given free items in exchange for reviews. “It is not a scam but an incentive.”
After being alerted to the scam by the Times, the Internet retailer booted the seller and its products, and removed the fake reviews. While that’s all well and good, as many use the reviews on Amazon.com in order to decide who to order from and what to order, it begs the question “who can you trust?”
It would seem the only reviews you can truly trust are those for products sold directly by Amazon.com — as the retailer itself is not going to bribe its customers.
Ah, but perhaps not. For if we go back to 2009, we can recall another high profile review bribery case, from back in 2009. Then, not a storefront, but Belkin, a product manufacturer itself, was found to have been paying for reviews. ironically using Amazon.com’s own Mechanical Turk service to do so.