Reaction: The Muddy Waters of Amazon.com

I had a strange experience yesterday when I attempted to buy a replacement lighting-to-headphone-jack adapter on Amazon: Literally every single product for sale was massively utilizing fake reviews.

For instance, the reviews of one adapter I was considering – which had 5-stars and over 700 ratings at the time of this post (link) – looked like this:

This product’s reviews – even those marked as “most helpful” by others (as you can see muted in the background) – are for a range of totally different products. Reading through these reviews, I found watch bands, shower curtains, reusable straws, plant pots, lasers, fidget spinners, mugs, lipstick, and even guns.

I’m going to rant a little now, but I’ll try to be reasonable…


First of all, I recognize that there are many forces at play here:

  1. Amazon wants to increase sales
  2. Sellers are competing to sell their products
  3. Buyers want to purchase the best products at the lowest price

On top of these three forces, it’s pretty safe to assume that:

  • Amazon’s algorithms shows/recommend products to shoppers based on product scores and the number of reviews
  • Amazon’s actuaries/algorithms have determined what percent of unhappy consumers (including the subset which will return purchases) is acceptable

The problem is that Amazon is stuck in a love/hate relationship with their sellers: While Amazon needs sellers in their marketplace,1 sellers have no reason to not game the system,2 because the reward for cheating is high, and the punishment is low3

However, I believe that Amazon could and should be doing much more to protect shoppers from manipulated product reviews:

  • Could — 3rd-party websites and browser plugins (like FakeSpot.com and ReviewMeta.com) have already popped up to help consumers avoid products with artificially inflated scores
  • Should — Shoppers will be more likely to make purchases when they can feel confident in their purchase decisions.

If countermeasures aren’t taken, Amazon’s marketplace will eventually become delegitimized in the eyes of consumers.


Even though I have Amazon Prime and an Amazon Credit card with great rewards, I opted to purchase my lighting-to-headphone-jack adapter directly from Apple – at a much higher price, and much lower convenience – just to ensure the quality and dependability of the product.


Footnotes:
  1. plus, competition drives down prices for buyers, which increases sales for Amazon

  2. In a competitive marketplace where everyone else is cheating, cheating becomes the only way to win

  3. Even if a seller’s account is blocked, it’s relatively easy and cheap for them to open a new account, repost their products, and artificially inflate reviews

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