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All was well in the Amazon garden back at the start. You could trust the reviewers because they only had one motive: to give honest feedback on the goods they bought. The question “How do I spot fake Amazon reviews?” would have seemed churlish.
Now, like a snake with a bedevilled apple, motives can be much less pure. “Top” reviewers are offered free goods in exchange for a positive review. Automated reviews have become an industry, as have farmed reviews in digital sweat houses.
This doesn’t always mean that reviews can’t be trusted, though. Most big brands would shy away from faking reviews through fear of a PR backlash, such as the one that stung a leading British historian who was found to write fake reviews of his own books while trashing rivals’.
Another change is that Amazon has taken several steps to stamp out false reviews. For a start, you can filter reviews via its “Verified Purchase” tag – but that’s still beatable. Companies sometimes offer to refund the cost of the item to a reviewer, or set up fake accounts where products are bought – because that may be worth the $20 cost of the item itself.
The reviews you need to be particularly cautious of are for lesser-known brands. Companies that don’t have a website, yet can boast hundreds of five-star reviews from buyers, for instance.
Fake Amazon reviews: how to find them
So how to spot the greats from the duds? Well, there are two products that can help. One is called Fakespot: paste a link into the site and it will give you a rating for both the product’s reviews and the manufacturer itself. ReviewMeta.com works in a similar fashion.
If you’re happy to pay Fakespot £1.29 per month, its Chrome Add-In will flag suspicious reviews as you browse Amazon. That five-star set of earphones may suddenly not look so tempting when it’s stripped down to two stars.
There are other common-sense steps you can take if you’re suspicious. Look out for wholly positive reviews. Check for repeat phrases in the reviews. Inspect the website of the company itself (does it even have one?).
If you’re reading one particular reviewer’s comments and you’re not sure if they can be trusted, click through to their history. How many reviews are they writing? Or is it just this one for a single product? If it’s more than one, are they all positive?
Personally, I prefer to simply paste the URL into Fakespot’s site, making sure to click the Reanalyze button if the displayed analysis is old. It’s a pain, but far less of a pain than buying something you later regret.