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Do you trust Amazon’s Choice recommendations?

Does the ‘Amazon’s Choice’ badge make you more likely to buy a product on Amazon? We’ve found that the endorsement can be gamed by unscrupulous sellers.

Whether it’s your vacuum cleaner conking out after years a service, a last-minute booking or a replacement pair of headphones, we’ve all gone online to search for a product we can trust.

But with the options out there today appearing almost infinite, it can be difficult to know where to begin.

Getting a sense of other people’s experiences of a product can often seem the best place to start. And with the growth in online review sites, it’s never been easier to do so. 

Yet as we’ve repeatedly shown, these customer reviews aren’t always as genuine as they seem.

So when the platforms themselves step-in and start endorsing the products or services being sold or reviewed on their sites, surely then these can be trusted, saving people having to discern the fake reviews and dodge the shoddy products themselves?  

Unfortunately, our latest investigation has shown that this isn’t the case.

What is ‘Amazon’s Choice’?

We found that Amazon, through its Choice endorsement, is recommending dozens of products that appear to have been artificially boosted by dodgy reviews, helping sellers dupe people into buying potentially poor quality goods through the site.

Amazon’s Choice claims to recommend “highly rated, well-priced products available to dispatch immediately”, so it’s no wonder that 45% of shoppers who notice the Choice logo said they were more likely to purchase a product from Amazon with the badge than without.

But our investigation uncovered seemingly brazen examples of people being incentivised to write positive reviews in return for free gifts or discounts. 

For example, one review for the ‘bestselling’ Amazon’s Choice ANCwear Fitness Trackers Bluetooth Smart Watch included a photo posted by the customer of the card used to offer the incentive, with the review adding:

“Don’t believe the five-star reviews… only reason it is getting good reviews is the £15 bribe.” 

Amazon must provide customers with a fuller explanation of how the Choice badge is awarded so customers can make better-informed buying decisions.

We’re also calling on the CMA to urgently investigate the way in which fake reviews and endorsements awarded by online platforms are potentially misleading people, following its recent intervention to crackdown on the trading of fake reviews.

Suspicious finds

In the meantime, we’d be really keen to hear from you about how reviews and endorsements influence your buying decisions.

Have you spotted a product or service on an online platform with an endorsement that you think benefited from fake reviews?

Have you been offered incentives in return for writing a positive review or removing a negative one?

Have you seen products or services listed online that you think have fake reviews?

If you’re unsure about whether to trust the reviews you’re reading, you can find our tips for spotting fake reviews here.  

Comments

If at all possible, I avoid Amazon like the plague. I think they’re making quite enough money already and so do not feel inclined to let them have any business from me.

Kevin says:
6 February 2020

It’s pretty simple really, don’t trust anything that anyone who is trying to sell you something, says about it. Treat anything anyone else says with a healthy scepticism.

I buy most stuff online, apart from groceries. Anything moderately expensive I’ll aim to ensure that there is some kind of provenance for anything I buy – I’ll look for a manufacturers’ part number or whatever, and physical retailer presence, but also use Which? reviews to avoid the lemons.

I’ll try to get a UK source first, but for cheap stuff (<£15) I will risk buying from abroad since it at least avoids import tax and extortionate courier charges. I recently bought some 'pre-used' CPU's on eBay to upgrade my ageing computers, less than a tenner from China, doubled the processing power of my kit, arrived in about a week, worked perfectly.

I look at reviews, but only really take notice of any actual facts, and always have a quick scan of the negative comments and the trend over time.

I think the social media consumer memes being promoted by so-called 'influencers' are pernicious, and an extreme example of the kind of antisocial behaviour actively promoted by the online corporations. First thing I learnt from the early days of the web? Online, no-one knows you're really a dog. Woof.

But plenty of well known high street retailers have a long history of poor consumer treatment, hard selling of extended warranties being a prime example.

I did not know that Amazon’s Choice existed but don’t use Amazon very often. I don’t want anyone else giving me their opinion of which products I should buy, whether on a website or a salesperson trying to sell products that give them most commission or they want to shift before the latest model arrives. Most reviewers are unlikely to have tested a variety of similar products so I suggest that they might not be qualified to give useful advice.

I do find online reviews very helpful for providing information that may be missing from the manufacturer’s information, especially if this highlights strengths or weaknesses. When buying a breadmaker for example, it would be useful if someone points out that it will resume working after a short power cut, if the mixing paddle tends to remain in the base of the loaf, if the alert to indicate that baking has been completed is not loud enough, and how many times the reviewer has used the product.

I find Amazon reviews very useful because of the amount of information that can be found, and focus on the ones with facts rather than opinions. I support efforts to prevent fake reviews and hope that most consumers will be wary about product recommendations.

No, this doesn’t influence me. It is the product I’m interested in and not what Amazon thinks of it.

The first time I noticed Amazon’s Choice against a product was when I was looking for a small kitchen appliance. Their ‘choice’ was for an unknown brand that could be acquired from China with any name you like printed on it.

So no, it certainly won’t influence me to buy a product.

Keith Hogwood says:
7 February 2020

I buy a lot from Amazon, and have done for several years. I do find them very useful. There is a wide choice, excellent delivery (I am a Prime member) and good value. I am influenced slightly by Amazon Choice, but very often I have made MY choice on what I want to buy. Generally, the goods I have bought have been perfectly satisfactory, though there have been some duds. I will continue to use Amazon because, on the whole they do provide a good service for the reasons I have stated. I occasionally use other on-line shops and things do go wrong there-I am presently in dispute with an on-line fish supplier whose “service” has been very bad. I’m still waiting for the goods.
Remember the old maxim: “Let the buyer beware.”

Frank says:
13 February 2020

I have all but given up on regular shopping and am 99% on line. Overall Amazon are very good, as are ebay. On the rare occasions when something goes wrong, both companies back up services are EXCELLENT. Plus buying on the credit card gives additional protection. The recommendations are not always accurate I agree but you have to read the reviews carefully as you do with screwfix et al.

Nigel says:
7 February 2020

I buy a massive amount of stuff from Amazon and in the main I am more than satisfied with the products and the service and yes I do read reviews, starting with the bad ones. I also check reviews elsewhere. I have had a couple of “negatives” regarding purchases from Amazon and I posted very bad reviews, I was contacted by the suppliers saying that they would give me £5 vouchers if I changed my reviews, needless to say I did not. I review everything I purchase from Amazon and I review as I find including some dreadful reviews for products which I felt deserved it. NB I also revisit some of my reviews if the product has issues at a later date but sooner than I would expect.
On one occasion Amazon stopped me posting reviews as I had posted something which they didn’t like, they would not tell me what it was!!!! I pointed out to them how many orders I had placed with them, they apologised and re-instated my reviews so take from that what you like!!

I cannot see why anyone should be asked to change a review and it’s good to hear that you did not accept the bribe, Nigel.

I’ve been encouraged to give good ratings on a couple of eBay purchases, so rather than doing so, my ‘review’ has explained what I have been asked to do. There is then no room to say that I’m happy with my purchase. 🙂

Chris Meynell says:
7 February 2020

I wouldn’t use Amazon if they were giving their stock away. Just pure greed. They don’t pay their proper taxes, are multi multi billionaires, but they still want more. Maybe boycotting them would be a good thing, then our high street shops can get back to normal ! Our government should step in, and do something about it, but I doubt they will do nothing.

Nick Vince says:
7 February 2020

I am a loyal and regular Amazon customer, but my trust in them has now taken a very severe knock after reading your Which article.
Amazon now need to respond immediately and robustly if they wish to retain my custom and my confidence in them.
Amazon the ball is in your court !!!

I am a sole trader and I sell on multiple platorms and I am saddened by the impact these sorts of issues have on “innocent” sellers who are trying to make an honest living.

The trick is not to avoid the platforms, but to confront them and to seek out the honest traders and ensure you are not supporting these practices that result in the inevitable “race to the bottom”.

I don’t think people really understand how much AI runs most of the processes now and corrupts what you see.

For instance you may not see all options actually on sale depending on where you live and your AI “perceived” preferences , and you may see a key item that the supplier has paid extra advertising costs to promote when it is not the best value at all – but you wouldn’t even be aware it had happened.

As your review has highlighted, “choice” is not actually selected by any human decision at all and lacks all the quality and safety aspects that AI cannot determine from the platform itself.

This is the world we live in – smoke and mirrors – as we have also seen too blatantly with our politicians and press – maybe that is another area to investigate as they have the power to stop these things and not actually encourage them !

Iain says:
7 February 2020

There is a load of cheap garbage on Amazon from sellers with names that look like a random pick of scrabble tiles and several sellers with identical items where only the name is changed on the item. Too many of the 5 star reviews follow a similar theme, such as for security cameras that begin with “I have a dog”. Most often before buying anything, I check other websites such as Toolstation and Argos to see if they sell the same brand name and also look at the 1 star reviews which tells a more acceptable story. I was offered a replacement sports watch last year or a refund if I would improve my review. Needless to say, the review was not changed.

Andy says:
7 February 2020

Amazon have become the Aliexpress of poor quality products. Amazon don’t give a dam all they want is profits to send back to America. If on-line shoppers here in the UK started to support UK Companies whom do pay a fair amounts of taxes these would be retained here in the UK.
WHICH Consumer Magazine have for years promoted Amazon at the demise of UK retailers.

David Victor Brown says:
7 February 2020

I think Amazon for ALL their online products, SHOULD have a section CLEARLY displayed for each item, where customers can report bribes for fake review or ANY other relevant information about fake reviews! Because until Amazon gets to grips with this SERIOUS FAKE REVIEWS PROBLEM! Nothing is going to change! Amazon needs to start Policing its own website and gather evidence to sort the problem! They make vast amounts of money ( Some of which can be spent on Policing! ) TO PROTECT ITS CUSTOMERS, MANY OF WHICH ARE VERY LOYAL!

Danosan says:
9 February 2020

Agree that all Amazon is interested in (like most other big companies) is profit. To quote the old proverb “LOVE of money is the root of all evil.” A very old fashioned view I know, but probably never more relevant!

Peter Burch says:
10 February 2020

I’m starting to look elsewhere than Amazon for an increasingly large amount of my on-line shopping these days. Amazon is so top-heavy with cheap, unbranded, Chinese rubbish these days that it’s becoming impossible to do a meaningful search in a reasonable length of time (when you factor in all the time you have to spend to read all the low-starred reviews). Luckily I can afford to buy brand-named products most of the time (if I can find them with my search, and/or if I know the name of a decent brand or brands that make the product I’m after) but for most people they might as well print out all the pages of listings and stick a pin in them. When all the top listings don’t have a single brand that I’ve heard of amongst them, it sets an alarm bell ringing for me now. But I’m only wise to this sort of thing because I’ve been a Which subscriber since 1997… most of Joe Public simply won’t know the potential pitfalls.