NEGATIVE REVIEW SUPPRESSION ON AMAZON

WHAT CONSUMERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT NEGATIVE REVIEWS ON AMAZON

There are 3 cautions all consumers need to know about negative reviews on Amazon:

1. Some negative reviews are posted by the competition posing as a customer/buyer. This is often done by a company that’s selling a similar item and they want you to buy their item instead, so they post a negative review of their competition. Unfortunately this is not as rare as you may think. A good thing to keep in mind is the more reviews there are for a product, the lower the percentage of fake negative reviews posted by the competition. The same goes for fake good or positive reviews – the more reviews there are, the lower the chances are for seeing a fake review. How do I know these things happen? I’ve spent over 30 years in customer service, much of it online, and I’ve worked for or know of companies that do this. And many of our volunteer consumer advocates have similar experiences. It’s common.

2. Some negative reviews are posted by a vengeful angry customer that had a small problem with a product or just with customer service, or for some reason they just have it “in for” a company. They may not like the owner, or the policies of a company, or that they’re based in a foreign country, or they may have had a problem with that company 20 years earlier and still hold a grudge.  What ever the reason, some consumers will post an exaggerated or fake negative review purely of out of spite. This is rare, but it does happen. I know it does because as a consumer advocate I’ve heard from people who have done it.

3. Many negative reviews are real, and honest. In fact most of them are real and honest, but Amazon uses a system that allows negative reviews to be voted down, as “not helpful”, which often keeps the honest negative review from being seen and read, and that system is being abused by Amazon, by sellers, and by angry consumers. Unless you understand how the voting system works at Amazon, this may be hard to understand, so I explain it below.

HOW THE AMAZON REVIEW & VOTING SYSTEM IS MANIPULATED

All Amazon reviews can be voted as “yes” helpful, or “no” not helpful. This type of voting system is commonly used on the internet, and was originally created and utilized by websites with helpfulness in mind. The idea is to list all the most helpful reviews first (in an auto-generated list, done by software and computers), because after all, when wandering through a maze of reviews, knowing your time is valuable, wouldn’t you most want to be shown only the reviews others felt were helpful? Of course you would. So the system of vote YES to helpful reviews and vote NO to not helpful reviews was created. But over the years websites and sellers have found a way to manipulate this kind of review voting system, and in doing so they found a way to suppress negative reviews from automatically being shown to shoppers. This type of review manipulation has become common place at Amazon, with Amazon actually participating in the manipulation. Both Amazon and sellers manipulate reviews by voting them up or down, bad or good, helpful or not. They do this so good reviews are shown at the top of the list, and negative or bad reviews are less likely to be seen and read by consumers and shoppers. Here’s how it’s done…

REVIEW MANIPULATION BY CONSUMERS

Sometimes consumers just don’t like reading negative reviews about a product they like. And out of loyalty to the product they will vote a negative review for that product down, as NO “not helpful”. This is relatively harmless, but annoying and not helpful to fellow consumers.

REVIEW MANIPULATION BY OTHER REVIEWERS

Amazon and sellers rewards reviewers for getting a lot of YES “helpful” votes on reviews they post on Amazon. For this reason reviewing on Amazon has become competitive. Thousands of reviewers are vying for top positions as a “Top 1000 Reviewer” or “Top 500 Reviewer”, right on up to “Top 10 Reviewer” and “Hall of Fame” reviewer. These coveted spots not only earn a kind of prestige, but it also gives the reviewer opportunities to get free products from Amazon, or sellers, to test and review. For this reason some reviewers will go out of their way to vote down reviews posted by those they feel are their competition – other reviewers closing in on being a “top” reviewer or “Hall of Fame” reviewer. The more NO, “not helpful”  votes a reviewer gets, the less likely they are to advance their position or ranking at Amazon and the less likely they are to be offered free products to test and review. So, those who review on Amazon in hopes of becoming a “top” reviewer will vote down reviews of others, even if it’s a good and honest review. This is very dishonest, and not helpful to fellow consumers. But it happens on a regular basis. Amazon is aware this happens, but since it doesn’t affect their sales or their bottom line, they don’t do anything about it.

REVIEW MANIPULATION BY SELLERS

When a review is posted on Amazon the seller (or manufacturer) is informed within a few hours, through their seller’s account with Amazon. They know a review is posted well before the average Joe gets a chance to find the review online. Sellers are informed of reviews posted for a seemingly legitimate reason – so they can respond in a helpful way or with an apology to the customer, thank the customer for the review, etc. But the problem with this system is many sellers will not respond in a helpful way, but instead will just vote a negative review down with a “not helpful” vote of NO. They do this because they know reviews with “not helpful” votes will be less likely to show up in review results for shoppers to find and read. To put it simply, reviews with “not helpful” votes are suppressed, shown last or not at all, when a customer looks at reviews for a product on Amazon. But seller’s aren’t the only ones trying to manipulate reviews.

REVIEW MANIPULATION BY AMAZON

Since Amazon is also a seller, and because everything sold on Amazon (regardless of the seller or manufacturer) makes money for Amazon, Amazon has a vested interest in making sure you want to buy a product. For this reason Amazon tries to suppress negative reviews much the same way sellers or manufacturers of a product do. Amazon can’t rig the voting system through computer code, because that would leave behind evidence of electronic tampering and would be considered fraud, and this would be flat out illegal. But since Amazon knows about a negative review the moment it’s posted, they have the opportunity to suppress the review with a NO, “not helpful” vote. They do this with fake consumer accounts set up solely for this purpose, or consumer accounts of employees – so they can vote YES to positive reviews and NO to negative reviews. Again, it’s important to know they do this because reviews with “not helpful” votes are suppressed, shown last or not at all, when a customer looks at reviews for a product. Amazon knows the more negative reviews are read, the least likely the product is to sell, and selling is the only thing Amazon is interested in. How do we know this is being done? In part because insiders (whistle blowers) at Amazon have told us. It’s also kind of obvious, when negative reviews are routinely voted down, as NO “not helpful”, within hours of being posted – even when posted in the middle of the night. What are the chances thousands of negative reviews are being found and voted down by consumers within moments or hours of the review is posted? The chances are so low it’s ridiculous.

WHERE DO WE GET OUR INFORMATION?

We know about some of this because the founding members of Practical Ways To Save Money (PWTSM) have decades of experience working in customer service and industries that deal with consumer products and services. As industry insiders we know how things are done. And, as consumer advocates, we investigate and do research. We also occasionally get insider information from whistle blowers.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU SUSPECT REVIEW SUPPRESSION

One thing you can do is contact the website and tell them to stop manipulating reviews, to make it easier for consumers to find and read negative reviews, and to automatically show the newest reviews first instead of showing reviews voted as helpful first. Tell them you know the system of review voting is manipulated and abused and as a consumer you want this practice to stop. Many websites make it difficult to contact them, for obvious reasons, but most websites do give you a way to let them know how you feel either through a “feedback”, “contact us”, or “help” page. Links to these pages are often buried at the bottom of the web page, in find print. Or they may be found in drop down menus on the top of the page. A contact page might only be offered to you after you go through a series of links and buttons. Some companies also sometimes make it hard to contact them by only allowing registered “members” of a website to find or use the contact page. Amazon is one of those companies. You have to be registered and logged in to contact them (here is their contact page: https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/contact-us). But if you want to stop the manipulation, and if you want your voice to be heard, it’s worth taking the time to contact the website to let them know how you feel. If they hear from enough people on one issue, they will make changes. If they think something they’re doing will cost them money or make them loose sales, they will make changes. It’s up to us, as consumers, to take action when we see something we don’t like or something unfair.

BOTTOM LINE

Always read reviews, but know a percentage of them will be fake or unwarranted. And always take the time to seek out and read negative reviews, even if they aren’t offered to you in auto-generated lists of reviews offered by a website. To do this you’ll most likely have to take the time to click on the “one star” reviews and see what they have to say. Know that some reviews will be fake, but most reviews are real and honest. The more reviews a product has, the higher the chances are the reviews are real and honest. And if you suspect a fake review or if you suspect a website is suppressing negative reviews, take the time to contact them and let them know how you feel.

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I hope this information helps you make informed decisions when shopping at Amazon and other online retailers and in turn helps you save money.
Yours truly,
Dan, Consumer Advocate
Practical Ways To Save Money (PWTSM)
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