Buzzfeed news reports that more than 5.3 million reviews on Amazon are fake. This is despite measures such as only allowing real buyers of the product and also long shipping routes from China to the United States. This is a big problem as reviews are a way for customers to judge products while shopping in online marketplaces. Reviews are an important part of customer feedback and will ensure sellers are honest. However due to the competitiveness of e-commerce platforms, any number of good reviews will be enough to convince them that the item is worth it to buy. Because of this, sellers often employ a small army of reviewers to leave positive feedback to have their purchase reimbursed while giving the reviewers compensation for writing reviews.
The Problem with Fake Online Review
These reviews pose a risk for consumers as they do not reflect real-world quality, with customer’s risk receiving subpar goods that might be dangerous. In a logically perfect system devised by Amazon and other online stores, a bad review will be left as a warning not to purchase these goods, but they’re overwhelmed by the amount of fake reviews and once enough bad reviews do appear, sellers will quickly delete their old product page but starting a cycle of frustrated disappointed customers who got conned by fake reviews.
Online Marketplace Aren't Doing Enough
Part of the problem stems from Amazon and other online marketplaces that aren’t doing enough to stop fake reviews. Although Amazon starting from 2016 has banned free or steeply discounted items in exchange for reviews facilitated by third party websites. This only led to the activity of trading fake reviews for money underground and hidden, making it harder to track and ban these users. After complaints from real customers who are disappointed with these products come in, Amazon does nothing after the seller deletes their product and then proceeds to continue to sell the same product with another account in a new store.
Amazon’s other efforts include using Artificial Intelligence to monitor reviewer behavior and ban reviewers who behave suspiciously according to its behavioral analytics, but sellers still have workarounds paying for accounts who have been members for more than 3 or 6 years to beat the behavioral algorithm. Amazon must then rely on other means to control the fake review problem.
Proposal: Transparency, online personalities and an enforcement of values
The most important part of reviews is ensuring that reviewers are honest and transparent about where they receive their products, income as well as their honest opinion. Because of this, reviewers should not be anonymous faces behind purchases, they should have personalities in order to be entertaining in their reviews while also opinionated and clear on their biases. While AI and machine learning can find clear fake reviews, they do not improve the quality of reviews, the amount or give clear recommended items. Any curation that does exist inside online marketplaces are done by store officials who don’t have the resource or time to review all the items they may need to recommend.
Influencer Curated Content
Influencers have a huge impact on purchasing decisions especially for entertainment products such as movies, video games, products, and most egregiously in the form of influencer merchandise. Most people purchase influencer curated content as a form of affirmation to others that they are within the same “sphere of influence” to other fans of the same influencer.
Curating items involves an influencer choosing items or products that they are recommending
Steam embraces micro-influencers as a way to help improve their recommendation algorithms and also to recommend games to people who follow these micro-influencers. Fake reviews from other users are less relevant as reviews from micro-influencers are given higher weight compared to normal users.
Online stores such as Amazon should provide room for Instagram micro-influencers as well as experts to recommend products. Paid reviews by influencers will still happen, but rather than ban them altogether, Online shops should be transparent and indicate whether reviews are paid for or not and tell users it doesn’t change their judgment in their reviews. This is further enforced by new laws such as the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore who require clear disclosure of commercial relationships.
The role of influential tastemakers is important within online shops, and online shops are stalling in attempting to provide a channel with which influencers can curate, it is Instagram that is providing a link to the online shops to sell items. Big influencers will use Instagram to show off their style, but when it comes to smaller micro-influencers rather than attempt to influence taste on social media platforms, online shops should embrace and provide platforms for micro-influencers to review products. Curated content has the power to create more sales as it can convince customers that they’re lifestyles can be enhanced.
Because while advertising can sate the interest of someone to want to know the product, online marketplaces are the gateways for people to spend their money online, and having influencers be part of the process of deciding what to buy can help consumers.