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Amazon Bans Incentivized Reviews Tied To Free Or Discounted Products (techcrunch.com) 77

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Amazon is making a significant change to its Community Guidelines, announced today, which will eliminate any incentivized reviews, except for those that emerge from within its own Amazon Vine program. This program allows Amazon -- not the seller or vendor -- to identify trusted reviewers, and has a number of controls in place in order to keep bias out of the review process. Amazon has historically prohibited compensation for reviews -- even going so far as to sue those businesses who pay for fake reviews, as well as the individuals who write them, in an effort to make its review and rating system fairer and more helpful to online shoppers. However, it has allowed businesses to offer products to customers in exchange for their "honest" review. The only condition was that those reviewers would have to disclose their affiliation with the business in question in the text of their review. Reviewers were generally offered the product for free or at a discounted price, in exchange for their review. Although, in theory, these reviewers could write their true opinion on the product -- positive or negative -- these incentivized reviews have tended to be overwhelmingly biased in favor of the product being rated. Amazon says that, going forward, the only incentivized reviews will be those from Amazon Vine. These don't work the same way, however. For starters, Amazon selects who will be allowed to review products, and it does so mainly to boost the review count on new or pre-release products that haven't yet generated enough sales to have a large number of organic reviews. Vine reviewers are invited to join the program only after having written a number of reviews voted as "helpful" by other customers, and tend to have expertise in a specific product category. In addition, vendors don't have any contact with Vine reviewers, nor do they get to influence which reviewers will receive their products, which are submitted directly to Amazon for distribution. These changes will apply to all product categories other than books, as Amazon has always allowed advance copies of books to be distributed, the retailer notes.
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Amazon Bans Incentivized Reviews Tied To Free Or Discounted Products

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 03, 2016 @05:01PM (#53007067)

    UPS didn't ring doorbell.

  • by reboot246 ( 623534 ) on Monday October 03, 2016 @05:06PM (#53007093) Homepage
    It's becoming almost impossible to trust the reviews, so maybe this will help a little bit.
    • Co-mingling of goods was already a huge issue Amazon is doing nothing to fix it.

      But god forbid somebody get a discount to do a review. Oh no, can't have that.

      Here's the thing: the people doing those reviews are at least incentivized to do a review. The co-minglers, on the other hand, are already up to fraud the moment they start.

    • Not really. If it looks well written, it's probably fake. The ones with spelling errors that are about two sentences long and are buried under the "See all customer reviews" are usually the ones you want. =p

  • Unfair (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 03, 2016 @05:08PM (#53007097)

    This is unfair. My daugher writes fake Amazon reviews to put herself through college. Now she will have no choice but to work as a stripper instead.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      At least it will be honest work

      • Re: Unfair (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Not if she wants to get the really good tips

  • The write-up equates "incentivized" with "fake" and that's just not true. A conflict of interest is a challenge, but does not automatically invalidate the result — otherwise any politician promising things like "ending poverty" should be run out of town as a faker, for he obviously has a conflict of interest between his promise today and his next election.

    That said, I too tend to discount those — reviews and politicians — and vote them down.

    • by stevel ( 64802 ) * on Monday October 03, 2016 @05:51PM (#53007329) Homepage

      I write such reviews - both for Amazon Vine and for vendors who offer me free or discounted products. I take my reviewer role seriously and don't treat a review any differently if I paid for the item or not. I recognize that that there is a serious abuse problem - my fellow reviewers use the term "coupon queens", though these can be both male and female - and I applaud Amazon taking this position even though it means I will receive fewer items to review.

      I would urge you, though, not to automatically downvote incentivized reviews. If you believe the review is genuinely not helpful, ("I haven't received it yet but I'm sure my grandson will like it, unless I sell it on eBay first..), downvote away. But there are good reviewers out there trying to help purchasers as if they had bought the item themselves. Indeed, those who paid for an item are often biased in favor of it so as to not appear foolish for having spent the money.

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        Unless reviewers are picked blindly and randomly, as the Vine program promises to do, an incentivized reviewer will always weight the integrity of his review against the chances of ever being offered free stuff again.

        This conflict of interest is why I vote down such reviews automatically — with prejudice and annoyance — and I'm glad, Amazon is fighting this practice.

      • by Fwipp ( 1473271 )

        Do you think that getting something for free doesn't skew your opinions of the product?

        these incentivized reviews have tended to be overwhelmingly biased in favor of the product being rated.

        Whether explicitly scammy or not, products that reward their reviewers are unjustly getting higher scores.

      • by naubol ( 566278 )

        There was a recent study that basically showed incentivized reviews were significantly more positive on products.

        Given the bias, we should probably downvote those reviews. Even if some of them are trying to help, on balance, if they really wanted to help they wouldn't write a review on a product they didn't pay for.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I write such reviews - both for Amazon Vine and for vendors who offer me free or discounted products. I take my reviewer role seriously and don't treat a review any differently if I paid for the item or not. I recognize that that there is a serious abuse problem - my fellow reviewers use the term "coupon queens", though these can be both male and female - and I applaud Amazon taking this position even though it means I will receive fewer items to review.

        I would urge you, though, not to automatically downvote incentivized reviews. If you believe the review is genuinely not helpful, ("I haven't received it yet but I'm sure my grandson will like it, unless I sell it on eBay first..), downvote away. But there are good reviewers out there trying to help purchasers as if they had bought the item themselves. Indeed, those who paid for an item are often biased in favor of it so as to not appear foolish for having spent the money.

        This comment was five stars. It was the finest piece of exposition ever witnessed by any human, living or dead.

        I received moderation in exchange for my fair and honest review.

    • The write-up equates "incentivized" with "fake" and that's just not true.

      If it's not true, there wold be no statistical difference between the average rating of incentivized and regular reviews. The inceitives would only be increasing the number of reviews, not affecting the ratings themselves..

      Summary says these incentivized reviews were "overwhelmingly biased in favor of the product" - that would indicate a significant deviation between the two averages. So yeah the incentivized reviews are for all

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        If it's not true, there wold be no statistical difference between the average rating of incentivized and regular reviews.

        False.

        Some incentivized reviews are biased. Maybe, even many of them. But biased does not mean fake either and, as I said, not all of them are even necessarily biased.

        Summary says these incentivized reviews were "overwhelmingly biased in favor of the product"

        Yes, and this may very well be true. But it does not mean, they are fake — the semantic differences are important.

        significan

  • Half Way There (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BrendaEM ( 871664 ) on Monday October 03, 2016 @05:13PM (#53007131) Homepage

    Banning the vendors would have been the prudent thing to do for people paying for reviews.

  • by twmcneil ( 942300 ) on Monday October 03, 2016 @05:22PM (#53007165)
    While the disclaimers were always quite clear, as noted in the summary, the reviews I read were all very positive. Want free stuff? Keep the review positive like the seller intended. You just can't avoid it. Better to allow it all.
    • Re:About Time (Score:4, Informative)

      by silas_moeckel ( 234313 ) <silas@@@dsminc-corp...com> on Monday October 03, 2016 @05:28PM (#53007195) Homepage

      Funny I wrote a lot of bad reviews for stuff I got at a discount and frankly they didn't see to care.

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        Funny I wrote a lot of bad reviews for stuff I got at a discount and frankly they didn't see to care.

        Perhaps they just thought this was your one in ten poor review so you wouldn't seem like a total shill, it doesn't have to work every time and complaining about a bad review might easily turn it into a Streisand effect causing more bad PR. But you're pointing out an important issue, even if they don't actually punish you for bad reviews reviewers might still think that they will be. Because the official party line is clear, but who really wants bad reviews? *wink wink nudge nudge* Maybe you make a few custo

  • by gweilo8888 ( 921799 ) on Monday October 03, 2016 @05:26PM (#53007185)
    Amazon has not in any way, shape or form "banned incentivized reviews tied to free or discounted products". Amazon has banned such reviews being conducted by third-parties, because it wants a larger slice of the pie for itself.

    Incentivized reviews tied to free or discounted products are not just allowed, but remain actively encouraged by Amazon -- it just requires the vendor to use its Vine program, giving it more control over who gets chosen, and likely some program-related fees from the vendor too.
    • Actually I've been complaining a lot to Amazon about external addresses contacting me asking for Amazon reviews in exchange for a discount. There was a vendor selling a type of metal thermos with a handle held on by two rings for $30, giving me a $15 discount; I found another manufacturer making an identical thing and selling it for $16. I started pointing out to Amazon that they were giving me a "discount" on a product with an inflated price, which seems to suggest they'd make a profit anyway--JC Penny

  • I was getting worried until that last sentence. I read an advance copy of a book about a month back, and literally just an hour ago the author sent an email saying the book had been published and letting us advance readers know we could now post. I was starting to think it was pretty odd timing, if I got shot down before I had a chance to get over there and post a review.

  • for a free or discounted product. I think about half of my reviews are negative or neutral, and I avoid doing reviews on things like vitamins that will produce nothing but expensive urine.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      cool story bro!

  • by fuzznutz ( 789413 ) on Monday October 03, 2016 @07:50PM (#53007985)
    Reviews for low cost objects were getting pointless. If you search for something, the most "relevant" search would show an item with 350 reviews. 340 of those reviews were "incentivized." It was getting ridiculous. I would search through pages of reviews for any that were real customers. I started looking elsewhere for my online reviews and shopping.
  • by RubberDogBone ( 851604 ) on Monday October 03, 2016 @08:31PM (#53008177)

    Since Amazon has clearly clobbered the bogeyman of honest reviews in exchange for a discount, maybe now they can DO something about the fraud that is co-mingling.

    For those not up to speed, co-mingling takes place when various suppliers all certify they have x number of identical products and they ship these items to Amazon who then holds them for fulfillment. As far as Amazon is concerned, the items supplied by Larry are the same as those supplied by Sara so the items get pooled together and orders are filled by whichever one makes sense to Amazon.

    The problem is, a LOT of vendors are faking it, certifying other products are the same or supplying counterfeit versions. Suppose you order a bottle of Coke. Larry and Sara both sell Coke on Amazon and both of them ship the bottles to Amazon and Amazon then fills the orders. But Sara hasn't supplied a REAL Coke, no she's sent in some store brand drink.

    You order a Coke on Amazon from Larry's store. Amazon says well, we have 15 Cokes in stock, and Larry's are the same as Sara's so we'll send you one from Sara's supply since it's closer to you. Your Coke arrives and you spew it all over the place when it turns out to be store brand and not the real Coke. So you leave a bad review! Larry has shipped you fake coke and he's cheating! His reputation takes a pounding and he doesn't even know why.

    Larry is then put in the spot of trying to make things right with you even though HIS Cokes were fine and it was Amazon who shipped you the fake one. Amazon does zero policing to validate products are what they say, so Sara gets away with it.

    This sort of fraud is happening all the time now. Legit vendors are faced with bad reviews for fake products they didn't supply, but they have to turn around and make the customer happy or else Amazon penalizes them for negative reviews and bad feedback.

    The fake suppliers don't care because they don't get caught very often and even if they do, they just toss the account and make a new one, and of course they never had legit merchandise to sell anyway so any sales that DO take place stand odds to be fulfilled with the real merchandise.

    Amazon is doing nothing to fix this and thousands of honest vendors are being slammed with bad reviews about fake or counterfeit or dangerous products that got co-mingled into the system.

    • As for your problem -- The worst offenders are batteries and razor blades. Expensive items that can be faked by experienced Chinese manufacturers and added to Amazons cache. I will never buy those on Amazon!

      I have also run into similar issues where one third party seller whose items are "fullfilled by Amazon" gets good reviews for a product like branded vacuum cleaner bags. Then a shady other seller sees the good reviews and lists their product on the same page. But they substitute inferior crappy generic v

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      I bought what ended up being knockoff Anderson PowePole battery connectors off Amazon. They were so bad I couldn't even get continuity on one leg.

      It was annoying but to Amazon's credit, they accepted the return despite the crimp pins being crimped with a stub of my battery cable still in them. Of course it cost me an inch and half of my cable.

      Stupidly, the real product from a company web site who distributes actual Anderson connectors ended up being cheaper, but the site wasn't easy to find.

      The real vict

  • Amazon's naive to think that banning incentive-driven reviews will make them go away. Of course they'd like to think that all vendors will transition to Vine, but more likely they'll just go underground - when they're not marked, readers can't adjust their interpretation based upon the information, nor can they be studied statistically. Vendors will also get suckered into participating in underground paid reviewing, increasing their real sales costs, and run the risk of losing the invested money when they g

  • Anyone who frequents Amazon has been aware of this issue for some time.

    I run in to it all the time since I started working on rebuilding a 50cc Chinese moped using nothing but parts from Amazon. If the reviews on a product look too good to be true, then you need to take a look at the individual reviews and look only at "Amazon Verified Reviews". Those are the people that actually either paid for the product or were selected directly by Amazon to review the product.

    It's not really that difficult. In fact, Am

  • I have been seeing hundred of reviews where the title is "X stars" and the text is something less than 7 words, like "I like it".

    Is Amazon somehow forcing this?

  • People will far more likely bitch about a product or service they're not happy with than recommend one which they like. I can't remember the exact proportion, but its about 1 to 5. So if you're unhappy you'll go tell 5 people, if you are you tell 1.

    With this in mind, if you see any product with review averages in the 4 and 5 stars you *know* it has to be fake. The very fact that vendors pay for positive reviews only confirms this. They're - naturally - getting many more negative reviews than positive ones s

  • I bought a tripod and wasn't impressed with it. So I left my thoughts in a review. The manufacturer contacted me and told me they were aware of the problems and working on a new version. They offered to send me the next model up and asked if I'd "update my review." I agreed and updated it to reflect them standing behind their product (didn't change my thoughts on the tripod itself), which I think is important in the buying process. I've left negative reviews for companies doing the exact opposite.

  • The situation has gotten to the point where there are websites like fakespot.com [fakespot.com] that analyze the reviews for a product and generate a report based on how many reviews look to be "incentivized" or outright fake. It does seem to do a good job on most products.

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