Rave reviews for headphones sold on Amazon by some third-party sellers were for a range of unrelated products including soft toys and puzzles, a survey by Which? found.
The consumer watchdog said it researched Bluetooth-enabled headphones and ranked them by “average customer reviews”. He did this to “imitate the way a consumer might buy” if looking for the top-rated products.
Nine out of 10 of the top-rated headphones were “artificially boosted” with reviews of unrelated items, he found, including umbrellas, bowls, glass jars and extension cords.
In some cases the listings had no reviews for Bluetooth headphones, which ones? added.
Bose was the only established brand in the top 10 – in eighth place and with no signs of review abuse.
The other nine were “unknown or little known brands”, which ones? said, adding that Amazon appeared to be the only site they were on.
The top-rated headphones – with five out of five stars – were “Amazon’s Choice”, but none of the 40 reviews were for the headphones.
“Examine Fusion Abuse” seems to have been achieved by taking advantage of loopholes, which ones? noted.
Merging reviews of other people’s listings is known as ‘hacking’ and sellers have complained about having their reviews ‘co-opted’ and ‘stolen’ by other sellers, which ones? underline.
Amazon said it had “clear safeguards in place” and had “taken appropriate enforcement action against the product listings and sellers in question.”
According to the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA), a whopping £23 billion of consumer spending is influenced by online reviews.
It is not necessarily wrong to merge some reviews. This can be done for the same product in different colors, for example.
But doing so for unrelated products is “against Amazon’s terms and conditions”, Which? said, and a danger to “consumers looking to make a quick purchase”.
Which? said it appeared Amazon was “struggling to prevent third-party sellers from manipulating its review system to improve their products, which risks undermining buyer confidence.”
Its director of policy and advocacy, Rocio Concha, said it “reinforces the importance of the ongoing investigation into fake CMA reviews to get to the bottom of things and ensure that major shopping sites protect people from these unfair practices”.
She added: “The Government has also announced its intention to tackle fake reviews as part of its consumer and competition reforms and is expected to introduce new laws, in the next Queen’s Speech, to ban such practices. operating as soon as possible.”
An Amazon spokesperson said: “Amazon aggregates customer reviews for product variations such as color and size, and we have clear safeguards in place to prevent products from being grouped together. incorrectly, either due to human error or abuse.
“Our proactive measures automatically detect and block the vast majority of abuse in our store; however, we are disappointed when bad actors evade our systems, and we will continue to innovate and invest in our tools and processes.
“If we discover detail pages with incorrectly grouped reviews, we use those learnings to improve our prevention mechanisms. We have now taken appropriate enforcement action against the product listings and sellers in question.”