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What can we do about the problem of incentivized reviews?

June 29th, 2016

Update 10/3/2016: Amazon BANS Incentivized reviews!

This is Part III of an in-depth series that examines incentivized reviews (reviews with a disclosure similar to: “I received this product for free or at a discount in exchange for my unbiased review”).  In Part I, we analyze 7 million reviews and show that incentivized reviews are less critical than non-incentivized reviews.  In Part II, we looked at where these reviews come from and examined the problem of review clubs.

Our data shows that incentivized reviews currently make up the majority of all new reviews on Amazon.

If this trend continues, it will be increasingly difficult to find an honest or a critical review on Amazon.  With increasing consumer skepticism, it seems the tides are due for a change.

Amazon is already removing the “Verified Purchaser” badge on many incentivized reviews.

Late in 2015, Amazon decided to strip the “Verified Purchaser” badge off many reviews that were written in exchange for a free or discounted product.  Amazon’s Help & Customer Service article explains this here:

When an Amazon Verified Purchase badge appears next to a review, it means we have verified that the person writing the review purchased the product at Amazon and didn’t receive the product at a deep discount.

This is something that we’re definitely seeing in the data:

n-ic-key Non-Incentivized

ic-key Incentivized

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Removing the verified purchaser badge may seem trivial, but it actually does more than just remove a small piece of text by each review.  Verified purchase reviews hold more weight than unverifieds, helping somewhat correct the average product ratings:

Amazon calculates a product’s star ratings using a machine learned model instead of a raw data average. The machine learned model takes into account factors including: the age of a review, helpfulness votes by customers and whether the reviews are from verified purchases.

You can use ReviewMeta.com to filter out the incentivized reviews and see what the non-incentivized reviews say.

We created ReviewMeta specifically to help consumers cut through low quality reviews, and adjusting for incentivized reviews is a big part of this.  We’ll use this example product to walk you through completely removing the incentivized reviews: Rxvoit Noise Isolating Earbuds with Smart Built-in In-line Mic. Bass Enhanced + Bass Boosted

  1. Start by clicking the “View/Edit Adjustment” link just below the product rating.
  2. Find the “Incentivized reviews” slider, and pull it all the way to the left.  (On this example, we’re already reducing their weight considerably).
  3. Click “Apply New Weighting” and you’ll see the new adjusted rating be calculated which won’t include any incentivized reviews.

Take a stand and complain to Amazon.

Our final suggestion relies on the masses sending a message to Amazon.  If everyone voices their opinion, Amazon just might hear the message.  Here are some things you can do while using Amazon:

  1. Click the “No” button when asked if the review was helpful.  Comment on reviews you find to be overly positive for a mediocre product, and don’t be afraid to even hit the “report” button.
  2. If you bought a product that had glowing incentivized reviews and it didn’t meet your expectations, don’t be afraid to return it and complain to Amazon.  Let them know that you were mislead by the reviews.  Send a financial message to the seller that they aren’t going to swindle you out of your money.
  3. Fight biased reviews with unbiased reviews.  Be the first to post a critical review on a product that deserved it.  

Ultimately, we believe that Amazon should update their Terms of Service and prohibit this type of review.

We understand that Amazon is a publicly traded, for-profit corporation.  Their goal is to maximize revenue, and loads of positive reviews help support that goal.  However, at a certain point you start losing respect and trust from your customers, and it seems we’re about to hit that point.  

We’ve established a clear bias in incentivized reviews using the data in Part I of this series, and then went on to explain the fundamental flaws in the review club system in Part II of this series.  Amazon needs to re-think what kinds of reviews they allow on their site, and change the rules of the game to make sure sellers aren’t forced to participate in review clubs in order to stay competitive.


3 responses to “What can we do about the problem of incentivized reviews?”

  1. Steve says:

    What Amazon has been doing is horrible. I buy a lot from them, and when I do a review I include this statement: “Unlike others, my review is truly honest as I paid full price for this item and did not receive any discount for my review. Compensated reviews are influenced reviews.” I hope someone gets the message.

  2. Tiffanie says:

    This is an awesome service, thank you so much for it. The only thing that I wonder about is not due to anything that Review Meta has done wrong, but Amazon has. There are still quite a few incentivized reviews that show up with the “Verified Purchase” label. When I’m doing my own research, not necessarily in the product that you’ve used above, I read the reviews after I turn off the unverified reviews, but there are still a good number of incentivized reviews that are “Verified.” Do you know what method Amazon uses to determine whether they remove the “verified” tag from reviews? These did have the disclosure, and it’s verbatim when compared to the disclosure that you cite here.

    I wish that we could just take the reviews for what they are instead of needing to decide if they’re legitimate or not. I hate what the Amazon reviews system has become.

    • Thanks Tiffanie! There is a discount percentage threshold that Amazon has set which nobody knows at which the reviews are marked as verified. So items that are sent for free obviously are obviously not marked as verified, but items that are only 30% off or 10% off might still get the “Verified Buyer” badge.

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