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You Still Can’t Trust Amazon Reviews and Here’s Why

Amazon logo on a phone
Sergei Elagin/Shutterstock.com

These days we all buy a ton of stuff online, and a good majority of that is likely from Amazon. With online shopping, ratings and reviews are one of the most important factors for many users. Still, it’s important to remember that not everything is what it seems when you’re browsing Amazon’s marketplace.

Amazon reviews are one of its best assets and biggest problems. Reviews can be wildly helpful if you’re trying to find a good deal or get the best product for your money. But you can’t always trust them. Fake or misleading reviews are not a new issue for the site, and here’s why you still can’t trust Amazon reviews.

“In Exchange” Reviews

Aukey paid reviews Amazon
Aukey offered $100 gift cards in return for “an honest review.” Aukey / Twitter

If you are shopping on Amazon, there is a good chance you’ll find a few fake reviews somewhere. These come in many forms, whether that’s paid reviews, Facebook groups that flood a product with high ratings to appear higher in results, or even those “In Exchange” reviews we’re all quite familiar with.

And if you don’t know what we mean by that, search for something and look at an off-brand product. Many items, especially in the tech space, have reviews like, “I got a discount on this product in exchange for an honest review,” or something similar.

In 2021, Amazon removed entire brands, including Aukey, RAVPower, Mpow, and several others, over this violation. The company removed millions of these “in exchange” reviews, too, then put out a statement on how Amazon is creating a trustworthy review experience.

However, the problem didn’t go away. Instead, there are Facebook groups dedicated to this same type of practice. Instead of mentioning it in the review, members of a club or group get discounts or promo codes, then must leave reviews on a product.

And while Amazon has taken several steps in the right direction, and things keep improving, it’s not enough. Today, we still see all sorts of shady or untrustworthy reviews and situations that are hard to ignore, making finding honest reviews a challenge.

Review Merging

Khomulo Anna/Shutterstock.com

Another common problem with Amazon reviews that we’re seeing more of lately is review merging. And while this could happen by accident, many brands merge old products with good reviews (or any reviews) into a new product that doesn’t make any sense.

Why would a company merge reviews? Well, a different product could rank higher in Amazon search results, look more appealing, and have an excellent four or 5-star rating on the outside. Then, an unsuspecting buyer will see its high rating and several hundred reviews and buy it without researching further. That’s bad for consumers.

A prime example is this nifty little no-name screw-in lightbulb security camera. It’s easy to install, gives you a security camera anywhere with a light socket, and it looks to have over 200 reviews giving it a 4-5 star rating.

However, look a little closer, and you’ll notice all of those reviews are for a pitcher for drinking water, tea, or juice. The reviews have nothing to do with a security camera, many of which are from way back in 2018. Confused? Me too. None of the reviews are from the current year (2022, at the time of writing), and not a single review is for the camera.

Unfortunately, we’ve even seen the “Amazon’s Choice” badge on headphones, USB devices, and other products with fake “merged” reviews. One product has over 30,000 reviews, a high rating, and showed up on the first page of search results. Unfortunately, many of the reviews were for a completely unrelated product.

Misleading much?

How Are Amazon Star Ratings Calculated?

amazon logo and review rating
Amazon (edited)

So, how are the Amazon reviews and star ratings calculated anyways? Well, that’s another issue that could potentially affect your purchasing decision. According to the company, “Amazon calculates a product’s star rating using machine-learned models instead of a simple average.”

This could be good and bad, but we’re not sure without knowing more details. Either way, Amazon doesn’t just take an average of all the stars and give you a solid number. Instead, it uses the age of the review, purchaser status, and several other factors. Then a machine-learning algorithm comes up with the star rating we all see on the site.

How to Spot Fake Reviews on Amazon

Laptop showing Amazon marketplace

Another potential issue is all those “Verified Purchase” reviews you’ll spot on Amazon where the company verified that the reviewer actually bought that item. Just because the purchase is “verified” doesn’t mean the review isn’t fake or paid for or that it was even bought on Amazon. The system simply needs images to verify the reviewer has said product. It just gives other customers a false sense of security.

So, how can you spot when funny business is happening? Here are a few things to look for while viewing products on the marketplace.

  • Too many 5-star reviews with only one or two words in the review.
  • Lack of detail with generic “Good product,” “Great item,” or “Excellent” as the review title.
  • Watch out for review merging where the product doesn’t match the reviews.
  • “Customers also bought” section contains unrelated products. (a sign of merging)
  • Poor grammar with robotic (bot-like) spelling and wording.
  • Several similar reviews in a short period, with big gaps between all the others.
  • Any review that mentions “in exchange for an honest review” type comments.

As you can see, there are still several different issues regarding Amazon reviews. However, remember that many of these elements are also in good, honest, legitimate reviews.

Furthermore, don’t instantly discredit an item if you spot a weird review because it could be a real review or even a “false positive” review from hackers and spam bots. The Amazon marketplace is a tricky business with a lot of competition, and some people will go to insane lengths to beat the competition. This can include buying bad reviews to make its competitor’s product look suspicious.

In closing, this isn’t a new problem, and it’s not limited to Amazon, as Walmart, eBay, and others are in a similar boat. Also, Amazon works tirelessly to prevent these reviews, which is a tough job. Just think about all the items on Amazon and the millions of real (and fake) customers. There’s a reason the company removes hundreds of millions of reviews as fast as it can.

That doesn’t change the fact that it’s still hard to trust Amazon reviews. What next? We’ll have to wait and see what Amazon comes up with next. For now, you can look into tools like Fakespot, which uses AI to detect fake reviews, scams, and other bots. Or, use ReviewMeta to evaluate Amazon reviews while you shop.

Cory Gunther Cory Gunther
Cory Gunther has been writing about phones, Android, cars, and technology in general for over a decade. He's a staff writer for Review Geek covering roundups, EVs, and news. He's previously written for GottaBeMobile, SlashGear, AndroidCentral, and InputMag, and he's written over 9,000 articles. Read Full Bio »