By Shira Ovide, The New York Times Company
Today I want to talk about a semi-mysterious purge of products on Amazon. Buyers probably haven’t noticed, but these evictions tell us a lot about unreliable internet reviews and show both Amazon’s power and limitations.
Researching this topic made me (again) feel that it is exhausting trying to avoid being cheated or manipulated online and our favorite internet destinations don’t do enough to protect us. Let me explain what is going on.
Who was expelled?
About three weeks ago, some big Amazon brands were suddenly banned.
Most people wouldn’t recognize the names of more than a dozen Chinese companies, including Mpow and Aukey, which have disappeared. But these two sell a lot of electronic devices like phone chargers and smartphone power banks. If you clicked “buy” on the first wireless phone or headset charger you saw on Amazon, it could be from one of those now suspended merchants.
It’s rare for Amazon to start a merchant that sells so much stuff, but the company hasn’t explained exactly why it made the choice. Experts on how Amazon works, however, believe that sellers have been punished for manipulating customer reviews. And some public statements from the company seem to back this up.
It is against Amazon’s rules to pay people for glowing reviews. But it’s also an open secret that purchased or otherwise played reviews are common on Amazon and many other websites.
An Amazon representative said the company is “relentless in our efforts to protect the integrity of customer reviews, and we will continue to innovate to ensure customers can be confident that every review on Amazon is genuine and relevant.” . ” I also tried contacting a few suspended merchants, but couldn’t reach anyone.
So why is this important to us? I will answer my question with two more questions.
Can we trust the comments online when the system is so easy to play with?
A great selling point of the internet is that we can glean the wisdom of crowds before we see a movie, eat in a restaurant, or buy a product. But there are so many ways to cheat online reviews that it’s hard to trust them.
If some of Amazon’s top sellers have manipulated buyers’ impressions of their products, it shows just how pervasive the problem is. Amazon presumably monitors large merchants more closely than overnight businesses that don’t sell much. And there’s a good chance these suspended companies have long cheated on reviews, Juozas Kaziukėnas, founder of e-commerce research firm Marketplace Pulse, told me.
This meant that some people were tricked into buying unwanted products, and merchants who played by the rules were outnumbered by those who didn’t. In short, fake reviews hurt us and make Amazon a worse place to shop.
Did Amazon grab merchants or was it forced into them?
There are two ways to look at what Amazon has done. The first is that Amazon is not afraid to punish companies that transport a lot of goods to protect buyers from deception.
The less charitable view is that it turned out that Amazon ignored the issue for a long time. And it’s not clear that Amazon discovered the problem on its own.
Vox’s Recode publication reported that pressure from the Federal Trade Commission led to the suspension of at least one seller. And a computer security recommendation website recently discovered a database of Amazon merchants arranging payments in exchange for around 13 million rave reviews. This disclosure took place just before Amazon’s bans were lifted.
I understand if you don’t want to know how online shopping sausage is made. Most of the time, buying products from Amazon and other reputable sites turns out to be very good.
Kaziukėnas suggested that maybe it is time to stop using reviews as a benchmark to gauge the opinions of others about products or services.
“It’s the Internet,” he says. “Nothing is real on the Internet.”
And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be nicer if you could click “buy” with more confidence without fear of being misled? Shouldn’t we be demanding more from Amazon, Yelp, TripAdvisor and Rotten Tomatoes to make sure reviews are as reliable and transparent as possible? We shouldn’t have to put up with counterfeits and fraud.