Fake Product Reviews Are Affecting Your Decisions – And You Might Not Know It

by | Posted on Dec 19, 2017

The Importance Of E-commerce Intelligence

For successful e-commerce companies, intelligence is everything. It could be in ensuring you’re beating all competitors on price when it comes to a more widely distributed product, or perhaps getting onto “the next big thing” early, to ensure you steal the march on your competitors.

As Sun Tzu said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.”

So just how good is your e-commerce intelligence? What is it based on, and is it possible it’s giving you the wrong answers?

Drilling Down

E-commerce intelligence is based on numerous areas, including transaction data, social sources, and product reviews. But what if some of these are compromised, leading to the wrong information – and consequently, the wrong conclusion?

One of the areas that is getting the most attention recently is the scourge of fake product reviews. These have been hitting major platforms, including Amazon, at a rate not seen before.

On a simple level, they take the form of “incentivized” reviews – for example, via Amazon’s “Vine” program – where testers are sent products for free, in exchange for reviews. These reviews may not be overtly biased, but there is an inherent flaw in such a review, where a kind of quid pro quo takes place on a level.

More damaging are pure, paid-for reviews. These involve paying people (sourced from social networks, micro job sites like Fiverr, or freelancing platforms such as Upwork) to write favorable reviews for a product, with an associated high rating.

The most damaging, and scariest from an e-commerce perspective, are “sniping” reviews. This is when competitors leave scathing reviews for others’ products, or hire people to do so; report competing sellers as selling counterfeit products, leading to their immediate suspension through Amazon’s “guilty until proven innocent” approach; repeatedly clicking on competitors’ ads to increase the charges to their account, and even getting people to upvote negative reviews as being “more helpful”.

Consider the story of Mike Molson Hart, who sells his “Brain Flakes” toys on Amazon. He saw a massive dip in sales leading into the usually-busy holiday season, and soon realized that this was primarily because he was a victim of sniping. Brain Flakes had a respectable 4.8 star rating out of 5, after over a thousand reviews, and yet potential customers’ first experience with his product was a whole lot of negative, 1-star reviews, resulting in the significant drop in sales.

ReviewMeta, a company that calculates a weight for reviews based on statistical modeling and its own algorithm, flagged the majority of new reviews posted on Amazon last year as “suspect”.

How This Affects You

While this might sound theoretically problematic, there’s a very good chance that this is affecting you right now. Many e-commerce intelligence solutions use ratings and reviews as a mechanism to predict things like seller performance, or sales of a product or brand. A common algorithm used in such products predicts sales performance based on reviews received. With what can be described as an epidemic of fake reviews affecting the major platforms, this metric will be wildly inaccurate.

This then has a knock-on effect across all metrics, meaning that your e-commerce intelligence platform could be giving you the completely wrong information, making it not only worthless, but potentially harmful to your business.

Most shoppers are streetwise enough to know what to look for when it comes to fake reviews. Things such as many reviews (particularly positive ones) within a very short time, reviews containing similar wording or photo’s, or those using vague or odd language.

Unfortunately, these reviews are still being considered by “intelligence” platforms regardless, resulting in an atmosphere of distrust, and poor decisions being taken based on bad intelligence.

Know What You’re Comparing

It’s therefore critical to ensure the accuracy of your e-commerce intelligence provider’s solution, and the assumptions they use. Besides for malicious manipulation attempts, reviews can be heavily influenced by the gender of the reviewer, or the cost, popularity, vertical, or even delivery times of products which are often out of the seller’s control.

The bottom line is that basing intelligence on reviews is biased, and will not generate the accurate results that you need to grow your business.

We’re Here To Help

Thankfully, there are solutions that don’t base their results on unreliable information such as product reviews. At Market Beyond, we pride ourselves on putting accuracy front and center,  providing the highest quality e-commerce intelligence using unbiased, objective information such as real-time online transactions. This way, we can promise you the accuracy you require to make the right decisions and take your business to the next level.

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