I thought your readers might be interested in my recent experience of buying from Amazon – and what looks like a $20 (£15.60) bribe to leave a great review for what I thought was a poor product.
Wanting to buy a wall stud finder, I chose a £13.60 Homder – mostly on the basis it was an “Amazon’s choice”, with excellent reviews and positive feedback.
When it arrived it looked, felt and operated poorly. Inside the package was a note offering a $20 Amazon voucher if I left a five-star review.
I returned the item and left a one-star review highlighting the paid-for-review tactics by the seller. Amazon didn’t publish it.
I resubmitted my review and took a screenshot, but that hasn’t appeared online, either. What do you think about this practice?
RH, by email
The trustworthiness or otherwise of online reviews has become a hot topic – not least because it seems reviews can make or break a product, restaurant or similar.
Your letter shows the extraordinary lengths to which some companies will go to create the impression that this is a five-star product. Given the price and the voucher offer, this item was, in effect, being sent out for free. How can that make commercial sense?
Amazon told us your review had not been published because it breached its community guidelines – that is, you mentioned you had been offered the “bribe”. It says it uses a number of technologies and a team of people to prevent firms from doing this. Last year it prevented more than 13m attempts to leave “inauthentic” reviews, and took action against 5m seller accounts attempting to manipulate reviews. It claims 99% of its reviews are genuine. However, it also claimed to have taken action against this particular seller – but when we looked earlier this week, the product was still being offered. After our intervention it has now been taken off, and within hours of us looking at this issue, BuzzFeed news website published an article highlighting the problem of bribes for good reviews, and citing several examples.
Clearly consumers need to treat reviews with even more scepticism. And Amazon needs to stop filtering its reviews. Had yours appeared, other buyers could have seen what this firm – which is based in Liuzhou, China – was up to. Consumers can play their part by ignoring these bribes and leaving honest reviews.
Meanwhile, many will see this as yet another reason to boycott Amazon and support their local high street instead.
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