Amazon Review Hijacking | The Truth Behind Fake Reviews

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Amazon review hijacking is a real problem in the marketplace today. A Buzzfeed article says that “Amazon sellers can gain fake product reviews in many ways. One popular way is giving away free products in exchange for reviews”.  Now, sellers can reuse old reviews for different products to boost their listings.

In this post, we’ll talk about what Amazon review hijacking is. We’ll also go over how sellers can see when other sellers take part in this dishonest practice.

Amazon VS Review Hijacking

The competition on this platform is fierce.

Third parties have amassed an increasing share of sold goods on the platform. Because Amazon is so competitive, sellers can be vicious. Some sell counterfeit products with fast-selling listings. Others create false reviews to make the competition look bad. Many look for abandoned products that were popular before. Then they steal the listing and make use of the old page reviews to create a false sense of trust for their product.

Amazon itself is not protected from hijacking. Amazon is a retail platform and also has its own branded goods. These include AmazonBasics, Rivet furniture, and Happy Belly food. Some sellers have voiced that there is unfair competition represented by these brands.

This complaint holds the interest of regulators in Europe and the United States.

There are a few sellers who have found a way to gain from Amazon’s brands, though. Amazon does heavy promotions for these brands. So, these listings amass thousands of reviews. When these items go out of production, Amazon abandons the listings. Sometimes it’s because they introduce a newer model. This makes the listings prime targets for sellers to hijack to up their own product.

A Huge Temptation

Saying that this theft of positive rating is problematic would be an understatement. This affects both ethical sellers and customers. If a product has enough positive reviews, that product can make it high up on Amazon’s search engine. It also has the potential of gaining an Amazon’s Choice badge. This badge goes to “highly rated, well-priced products available to ship immediately.”

This badge could trick customers into believing in and purchasing a bad product. This, in turn, tarnishes other sellers with the label as customers are unsure of who to trust. This problem of hijacking is so prevalent. One seller even created a form letter on Amazon’s Seller Central forums. The letter is available for other sellers to use to inform Amazon if their listing gets hijacked.

Review Hijacking on other Platforms

We don’t know if review hijacking is a major problem on other platforms. Experts claim that it is particularly severe on Amazon. Aside from Amazon brands, 2 million companies sell their products on the platform. This generated $160 billion in sales in 2018. A vast and diverse number of third-party sellers conduct their business on Amazon. They use automated tools most of the time, so the website has become an extensive marketplace.

Unethical sellers can then come in. The fertile ground entices them to bend, break, twist, and create loopholes in Amazon’s rules. The goal is to get customers to see their products.

Amazon as a platform is so big. That can sometimes be a double-edged sword with a large and profitable marketplace. This makes it difficult to spot the rotten apples.

Review Hijacking: The Workings

An Amazon “product variation” feature groups reviews from different product variations. Some product offers have more than one shape, size, color, et cetera. Amazon allows only one set of reviews over all the different variations. So, for instance, imagine 30 different colors of paint with the choices of either glossy or matte. Then add a choice of 3 different volumes. Each variation won’t have its own separate review, but customers will review the paint as a whole.

Unfortunately, this feature is being taken advantage of by some sellers.

They want to pad their pool of reviews. They do this by hijacking listings that aren’t even connected to their product. Then they add them as product variations. The reviews of those stolen listings combine with the reviews of the product. This falsely increases the product’s rating. These may be real reviews written by real people. They were for an entirely different product, though.

So, the practice is a dishonest and immoral one. It is certainly not in compliance with Amazon’s Terms of Service. Unfortunately, Amazon does not catch all these cases. They still happen on various products site-wide.

Seller Center Loopholes

Amazon makes it easy to sign up on the platform, become a seller, list items, and alter those listings. But automated programs and call-center-like workers take care of platform organization and policing. This system contributes to Amazon’s rapidly expanding catalog while maintaining low costs. The problem is, this also produces openings for people to exploit loopholes in the seller system.  according to some experts and sellers.

Combined Reviews

A method of system exploitation comes in the form of combining reviews from multiple products sold over a period of time. Imagine that a page sells one item in one month and it gets great reviews. The seller can revise the page for the next month to sell a completely different product. This way, the positive reviews from the well-received product will carry over to the new product. Then the percentage of positive ratings will remain high even if the second product doesn’t do well.

Collective Reviews

Another means of exploitation is through the way Amazon allows companies to list product variations. When used as it was originally designed, it lets sellers list items in different sizes or colors. Each item then has its own corresponding page but with collective reviews. Review hijackers abuse this is by grouping reviews together from completely different products. And the products aren’t even theirs. They come from other sellers.

These hijackers use a software tool to search for listings. They want listings that are inactive and out of stock, but still don their positive reviews. The hijackers then group the page listings together.

They use a variety of tactics to get the listings uploaded into Amazon’s back-end system. The hijackers’ product will become the only item in stock with reviews. Moreover, they have positive reviews from those other listings to bolster them.

According to Thomson, former Amazon Services executive, review hijacking is a quicker way of boosting a seller’s business. Creating fake reviews is slower. The process of creating fake reviews takes time before it can have an effect on Amazon’s search results.

It’s Fraud, Short and Simple

Image Source: LifeHacker Australia

Fake reviews are an infamous shopping hazard. Amazon review hijacking takes up only a percentage of them. A clandestine gig economy exists dedicated to getting U.S.-based customers to buy a product. They generate many fake reviews by rating and reviewing products for 5 stars. Then the sellers reimburse them.

Companies developed tools as a defense against these and to help customers. These tools try and determine if a product’s review is real or doctored.

Tools to Fight Amazon Review Hijacking

Fakespot is a review analysis website operated by Saoud Khalifah. The site attempts to spot reviews that seem shady. It uses textual analysis and a data set of over 4 billion reviews. If you want to use Fakespot, here’s how:

1. paste the product page URL into a box on the site’s homepage.

2. click “Analyze Reviews.”

The tool analyzes the product. Then it assigns the product a letter grade from A to F. The grade depends on the number of potential dishonest reviews that Fakespot identifies. The site then modifies the Amazon rating to what it thinks it should be. It also provides an overview of the reviews and conclusions.

The tool helps spot these hijacked reviews. But Khalifah says that these are particularly difficult to identify. “It’s harder to trace because the reviews themselves appear to be authentic,” he says. “They’re taking reviews that once were authentic or were actually written about the product in question and then just shifting them over. I think a big problem—why this is not being caught by Amazon—is because you need humans to moderate this.”

Another website aiding shoppers in the battle against fake reviews is ReviewMeta. If certain phrases repeat more than what is normal for an Amazon page, that listing may be flagged by the site. These abnormalities may show themselves as a large number of reviewers on the same, diverse set of products. They may also show as one product having an atypically large number of reviewers.

How to Determine a Hijacked Review

Here is the simplest way for consumers to identify if a review is hijacked. Check that the reviews of the product talk about the actual product. Your greatest shield against these hijackings is not buying items until you read the reviews. One cannot also just place their trust on number of reviews and what the average rating is. It is prudent to take the time to read through the comments.

Some reviews may be for a different product. That may not always be the case, though. Reading through thousands of reviews is not realistic.

Some have very generic “umbrella reviews” that are deceptively applied to any product. An example of this is “This was awesome!”, “Will buy again.” etc.

Some hijacked reviews might even be jumbled together with real reviews for the actual product. This makes them tricky to catch.

Final Thoughts

If you come across a review that doesn’t appear to belong there, report it to Amazon. Below every review lies a link for reporting abuse. If you see something that seems out of the ordinary, this feature is at your disposal as a weapon against unethical sellers.

Amazon’s tools make it easier to analyze reviews. They also make it easier to recognize and catch review hijacking. By clicking the “see all reviews” button you can arrange the reviews by most recent. Then you can check to see if the reviews appear to be more negative than the rating may show. This could be a case of older, different product reviews are raising the average score.

Shoppers can also ask questions about products on every Amazon listing page. Check if the questions asked make sense for the product sold. Customers can upload reviews with images attached. These are the reviews you can see first, and you can check if the image of that review is the same as the product.

Lastly, there is a collection of common phrases from a product’s reviews found under the heading “Read reviews that mention.” If there is a phrase that does not match the product listing, it might be wise to take your business elsewhere.

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