You'll mainly find him in the office writing reviews, researching supplements, or studying the fitness industry. When he's off his leash Doug spends his time in the gym, prepping the next meal or hanging out anywhere people will listen to him talk about fitness.
He is constantly in search for the perfect stack to keep him strong and shredded. He's been researching supplements casually and professionally for over 10 years. You can see more from Doug on his Linkedin profile here.
Find out more about Doug on our About Us page.
You can also follow Doug on Twitter: @TheDougnator
Latest posts by Doug Brown (see all)
- KetoBoss Alpha Titan TESTO GAIN Review - December 18, 2018
- NutraChamps TESTO PRO Review - December 12, 2018
- Zeal Naturals Apple Cider Vinegar Fat Burner Review - December 10, 2018
Amazon is big, but that doesn’t mean you should trust it. Although it’s a lot bigger, a lot more has to be done to maintain the same standards that made them successful in the first place.
Every year, these growing pains become more and more apparent.
Amazon sell 3 billion products over 11 market places. If say, the average product gets around a dozen reviews, then you already have more customer reviews than customers on the planet.
In Amazon’s case; the more products they sell, the harder it is to ensure the quality of the reviews. More sellers are creating false reviews and using it to make their product appear top of the marketplace and mislead the customer into purchasing.
In some cases the seller may have no choice, if all their competition is doing it, they may have to do it too, just to compete in the market.
So, how can Amazon police it?
The sad truth is they can’t. At least not yet. In our opinion, Amazon is now too big to stop it, and the impact is hitting the supplements industry hard.
In this article we’re covering everything. Everything wrong with Amazon reviews, the extent of the damage, our research and findings, how sellers are doing this, and how you can fight back.
We strongly suggest using the table of contents below to navigate through, it’s going to be a long one.
- Doug Brown
- Latest posts by Doug Brown (see all)
- Brief Overview: The State of Supplements on Amazon
- Our Theory on Amazon Elements
- What are White Label Supplements?
- The Impact of Unreliable Amazon Reviews
- Bad Products Become Market Leaders
- The Customer Loses… or Worse
- Amazon May Be Compromised From the Inside
- Amazon’s Response to the Claim
- Our Research and Findings
- How FakeSpot Works
- The Data: What We Found Out
- Fat Burners – 4 out 10 Fail
- Testosterone Boosters – 3 out of 10 Fail
- Pre Workouts – 4 out of 10 Fail
- Nootropics – 5 out of 10 Fail
- Summary of Our Research
- Our Opinion:
- How Sellers Can Cheat The System
- Free Product Offers (Incentivized Reviews)
- How the ban made the problem worse
- How Incentivized Review Scams Work Now
- Our findings
- Spam Bots and Fake Accounts
- More Complex Unreliable Reviews
- Switching Out Older Products
- How they do it:
- Weaponizing Spam Reviews
- How You can Identify Fake Reviews
- See the Customer Reviews Box
- 1. Switching out the product after the right amount of reviews
- 2. Majority of overwhelming reviews
- Check the ‘Frequently Mention’ Section
- Patterns in Review Data
- 1. All Private Accounts
- 2. The Date
- 3. Order Options that Don’t Exist
- How does the Product’s “Customers also bought…” section look?
- Identifying Suspicious Amazon Accounts
- How active are they on Amazon?
- What is their Average Rating?
- How is the Review Written?
- Do they have a Wish List?
- Are they working for Amazon Vine?
- Best Approach to Amazon Reviews
- Use FakeSpot.com (What we used for our data)
- Disregard Most 5 Star and 1 Star Reviews
- Don’t Trust Anonymous/Private Accounts
- Ask “Would You Write That?”
- Cross Reference With Other Websites
- Help Each Other Out
- Amazon Reviews Summary – Can You Trust Them?
- Special Thanks…
- Over to You
Brief Overview: The State of Supplements on Amazon
According to Statisa, Amazon is the second biggest company in the world behind Apple. It’s forecast to take up to 50% of the entire US eCommerce market by the end of this year. (Source)
This includes the supplement market. If you’ve done any shopping online for supplements, or in fact any shopping, Amazon is on most people’s shortlist. Even Bodybuilding.com now sells their signature series there – which used to be an exclusive to their brand site.
It’s a pretty good sign that you’re doing well when your competition has to start selling on your platform.
Online supplement sales on Amazon are absolutely huge, to the point that internet giant has even launched it’s own range: Amazon Elements.
They’re being discreet about Elements at the moment, but we guarantee you’re going to be seeing a lot of them soon.
Our Theory on Amazon Elements
We have a theory that once their supplement traffic is high enough Amazon will ramp up the range’s visibility on search queries and push other supplements way down that results page.
The only way other supplements will be able to compete is by buying sponsored ad space on Amazon. They will have to raise their prices to keep their business going, and Amazon will appear as a much cheaper alternative and slowly drive out the competitions business.
We’re starting to see the start of this in the electronics department with the AmazonBasics range and we feel this will only get bigger and spread site-wide.
However, it isn’t all bad, it will also help remove the weaker, more scam orientated supplement on the market, like white label supplements.
What are White Label Supplements?
Another problem that is getting slowly bigger in Amazon’s supplement marketplace – white label supplements.
White Label Supplements are typically inferior products with good designs.
A manufacturer will create a supplement (usually as cheaply as they can) on blank packaging. A seller will purchase the supplement, put their designs on the bottle, and sell it on Amazon.
This is why when searching for supplements you may see some with identical ingredients. Chances are that they’re from the same white label supplement manufacturer.
It works something like this:
- Manufacture creates a cheap, often poorly researched.
- A seller will order several thousand bottles from the manufacturer and put their personal branding on it.
- The manufacturer sends the product on the seller’s behalf to an Amazon warehouse.
- The seller then games the ratings on the product through untrustworthy reviews to make the product rank high and sell as many of them as possible. Amazon takes a cut from the seller from both sales and warehouse storage.
This allows the seller to keep their costs as low as possible, and their profits as high as possible.
The manufacturer wins, the seller wins, Amazon wins, but do you win? We don’t think so.
The Impact of Unreliable Amazon Reviews
In this section, we look at why fake reviews on Amazon are a bad thing, what’s happening with Amazon, and what it could lead to.
Bad Products Become Market Leaders
The first problem is that it sets a terrible standard for the supplements industry. If the most successful supplement in the industry has poor ingredients, servings and general quality it’s bad for everyone.
Why? Because it tells customers via the tampered reviews that these poorer products are the best the industry has to offer.
Worse yet, having all this market influence encourages other supplement companies create similar products to compete.
This creates a plethora of terrible products. So many ingredients out there have wild claims made about them without the clinical justifications.
Want proof? Just check out any of the examples on our list of the worst testosterone booster ingredients in the industry:
That’s why when we talk about products, we focus mainly on the ingredients. We want you to know what actually works in a supplement and why. It’s a lot better to have the facts, rather than a less-than-impartial opinion.
The Customer Loses… or Worse
Another problem is that the customer ends up with an inferior product. With a seller potentially gaming their reviews, you may pay for something which you may not want.
That’s bad – but with supplements it’s even worse because you’re putting it in your body. Pre Workouts could cause the biggest problems here as they contain a wide array of stimulants.
For example, let’s say a customer who is sensitive to stimulants is in the market for a pre workout. They go on Amazon and they come across an option with a high rating. Reading the reviews they see that many people describe it as safe, effective and highly recommended.
Trusting the endless reviews, the customer purchases it and experiences brutal side effects.
The reviewers didn’t know anything about the product or the ingredients, they didn’t care. Because they didn’t purchase it. This is the kind of potential problems we’re dealing with here.
If you think this sounds outlandish, wait until you see how all this works later on in this article.
Amazon May Be Compromised From the Inside
The biggest fear is that Amazon employees may be supporting this practice.
On September 16th 2018, a story broke from the Wall Street Journal. It states that Amazon is currently performing an internal investigation over claims that employees are leaking and modifying internal data for money to any interested party. (Source)
This is apparently achieved through a group of middlemen. The seller approaches the middlemen with a request, typically involving insights into market sales data, deletion of negative reviews on their products or even for personal data on customers that have purchased from them.
The middlemen then find and Amazon employees through social media and offers them payment in return for fulfilling the seller’s request.
Amazon’s Response to the Claim
After the story broke Amazon gave the following statement:
We have strict policies and a Code of Business Conduct & Ethics in place for our employees. We implement sophisticated systems to restrict and audit access to information. We hold our employees to a high ethical standard and anyone in violation of our Code faces discipline, including termination and potential legal and criminal penalties. In addition, we have zero tolerance for abuse of our systems and if we find bad actors who have engaged in this behavior, we will take swift action against them, including terminating their selling accounts, deleting reviews, withholding funds, and taking legal action. We are conducting a thorough investigation of these claims.
– Amazon’s statement to the Wall Street Journal, 16th September 2018
This would explain why many supplements are thought to be full of fake reviews on their Amazon product page.
If someone bought the supplement and didn’t like it, it’s possible that a seller could take action to have their post removed, keeping only their positive reviews on show. This would stop potential customers from seeing credible reviews and can influence their overall decision.
Let’s go back to our earlier example of the customer in the market for a pre workout. He could review the product on Amazon and tell others about the bad experience he had. This could potentially save others from having similar problems. However if the seller sees this they have the potential to contact their middleman and has the comment deleted.
And who says this practice won’t continue if it is happening? The suspicious parties may just become smarter and more discreet after this leak. They definitely got smarter when Amazon put a ban on incentivized reviews – again, we’ll cover that whole story later.
With all this is in mind, we did some research of our own to see how badly the market place is being affected by it all.
Our Research and Findings
To give you an idea of the impact these fake reviews are having on the Amazon market place, we did some research and put together data so you can see the extent of the damage.
We looked at the most common type of supplements that we examine on Muxcle. For us, that is mainly Fat Burners, Testosterone Boosters, Pre Workouts and Nootropics.
We then went onto Amazon.com and searched for these supplements and selected the top 10 ranking products that came up. Each product that we selected, we processed through Fakespot’s review analyzer.
How FakeSpot Works
Fakespot is an easy to use review processor. You can feed it reviews from Amazon, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Apple and the App Store.
Here’s a brief quote from the Fakespot FAQ which explains their service in a nutshell:
Fakespot uses numerous technologies to evaluate the authenticity of reviews. The primary criteria are (1) English language pattern recognition, (2) the profile of the reviewer and (3) correlation with other reviewer data. Our algorithm uses machine learning to constantly improve itself by looking at profile clusters, sentiment analysis and cluster correlation. We use artificial intelligence that has been trained to pick up on patterns. The more data that flows into the system, the better the system gets at the detecting fakes.
The algorithms run through multiple tests to determine if a review is authentic or not. It’s rarely just a key word that sets off the alarm, it is a pattern of usage, or the repetition of certain words. Linguistics play a huge part in every analysis, but it is far more complex than just looking for certain keywords.
– FakeSpot’s FAQ Page (Source)
We use it all the time, and have a lot of confidence in it. It’s the not perfect, but we believe it’s currently the most accurate review analyzer out there at the moment.
If you’re ever unsure when shopping on Amazon, run it through Fakespot.
The Data: What We Found Out
Disclaimer: For the sake of fairness, we wanted to keep this as organic as possible, omitting any Amazon sponsored products from our selection. We also remmoved any supplements which didn’t have enough reviews for effective judgement.
Below, is our report of the percentage of reviews with suspicious activity found on Amazon. As we’ve explained, this a collective average of the top 10 products in each section.
The results on Amazon jump around a lot, we recorded this data on the 6th October 2018. Those results may be different by the time you are reading this article:
As you can see, it’s shocking. Nearly 50% of all the products analyzed were deemed to have a lot of suspicious activity happening with their product reviews.
We honestly thought it would be a lot less than this. Below is our breakdown of each section and our thoughts.
We’ve hidden the product names because this data can change often, and may not reflect the review quality of that supplement by the time you’re reading this.
Fat Burners – 4 out 10 Fail
Below, is our full table for our results from the fat burners:
|Fat Burner #1
|Fat Burner #2
|Fat Burner #3
|Fat Burner #4
|Fat Burner #5
|Fat Burner #6
|Fat Burner #7
|Fat Burner #8
|Fat Burner #9
|Fat Burner #10
Two A’s, two B’s, two D’s and four F’s.
Four fails is already bad news, but seeing them fail by 100% of the reviews is even worse. This suggests that the supplier has completely fabricated their review profile to secure more sales.
It also means they may have managed to ensure all organic reviews are not being published. As we’ve already covered, this may be possible to do given the recent news.
Using this data, it’s not hard to believe that 2 out of every 5 fat burners you look at on Amazon may have been littered with unreliable reviews.
The only upshot to this is that some of the products scored an A, and only had around 10% on their product page. However, with only two A’s and four F’s, it’s a really disappointing turnout.
Testosterone Boosters – 3 out of 10 Fail
Below, we have our table of the first 10 testosterone boosters that came up while searching on Amazon.com:
Three A’s, one B, one C, two D, and three F’s.
Again, this isn’t a good sign. It’s not as badly affected as the fat burner market, but it’s pretty close to it.
Testosterone Boosters are now a big market for Amazon, and for those who sell them. With hundreds, if not thousands coming out every year, a lot of sellers are going to try their best to game the system.
In our view, testosterone boosters aren’t as established in the mainstream supplement industry as fat burners. However, as interest in them grows, we believe condition of Amazon reviews on them will only get worse.
Using our data, 3 out of every 10 testosterone boosters on Amazon may have mainly unreliable reviews to encourage sales. We’re happy to see that although 3 products failed, 3 scored an A with very little interference.
However, we shouldn’t normalize 3 products not having their reviews tampered with being something to celebrate. In a perfect world, every single one of these supplements should be scoring an A for reliability.
Pre Workouts – 4 out of 10 Fail
Another big one on our list are Pre Workouts, these are the supplements that offer the most immediate results after you take them. Here’s what the quality was like:
|Pre Workout #1
|Pre Workout #2
|Pre Workout #3
|Pre Workout #4
|Pre Workout #5
|Pre Workout #6
|Pre Workout #7
|Pre Workout #8
|Pre Workout #9
|Pre Workout #10
Three A’s, one B, two D’s and four F’s.
Another group with a lot of supplements that have a majority of untrustworthy reviews. Out of all the supplements in our lists, Pre Workouts have the potential to be the most dangerous and we’re not thrilled to see these results.
It’s easy for a manufacturer to pack a pre workout full of caffeine beyond what most people can tolerate. This is a cheap way to make a pre workout punchy without putting much effort into formulating it.
The problem is that is a dangerous approach. If the product’s reviews are all untrustworthy, and the wrong type of customer gets misled, it could result in that customer experiencing severe side effects.
If Amazon needed to prioritize their attention to a specific type of supplement, they need to do it with pre workouts. From our data, it suggests that 2 out of 5 pre workouts are using untrustworthy tactics when it comes to their reviews. It needs to stop.
Nootropics – 5 out of 10 Fail
Finally we have the nootropics. Although they came second to fat burners for the highest percentage of unreliable reviews, they had the most fails. Here’s what we found:
Two A’s, two B’s, one C and five F’s.
The most amount of fails we encountered while analyzing these products. Nootropics have been popular online for years, they bypassed the offline supplement market altogether and in our experience are mainly an internet product.
They’ve been sold a lot on Amazon for a while which explains why the review quality is unreliable. However, what really surprised us is Nootropic #8, as that was actually given the ‘Amazon’s Choice’ label.
It’s hard for Amazon to justify that they’re cracking down on low quality reviews, when their algorithms are selecting the more suspiciously rated products. Then again, with so much of this going on in the nootropics sector, it must be hard for them to detect.
Our data suggests that 1 in every 2 or half of the nootropics on the front page of Amazon contain a majority of untrustworthy reviews.
Summary of Our Research
Summing up our report, it would be safe to assume that if you go shopping on Amazon, you’re almost definitely going to encounter some kind of dishonest review and testimony.
We know it was a small sample, but the front page is usually where a shopper’s journey finishes on Amazon.com. This is typical Amazon shopper behavior. Then add on the fact that 30 – 50% of the first ten products they see on that page have a majority of suspicious reviews. It’s a really scary thought, especially when you think of shoppers who are less savvy online, or in a hurry to buy something.
The most affected market here appears to be Nootropics and Fat Burners. They have the most amounts of F’s and the lowest amount of A’s. Although we were surprised to see the Pre Workouts hit so hard, as they have the potential to cause some serious side effects when dosed incorrectly. That kind of product carries a lot more risk when its miss-sold to someone.
Supplement reviews on Amazon are definitely compromised. Be careful what you read, and make sure you look on other websites outside of Amazon to get a more balanced view of the supplements you’re looking at.
How Sellers Can Cheat The System
At the moment there are several ways that are known as to how sellers manipulate Amazon reviews for their own financial gain.
Here are the top methods that we’ve come across, but there are probably still more out there.
Free Product Offers (Incentivized Reviews)
This is possibly the most difficult type of false review to identify. These are written by real people who have used the product.
So, what’s the problem?
They were given the product for free in exchange for a positive review. These customers were given the product for free in exchange for giving it 5 stars.
A free supplement for a few paragraphs is a great deal to the reviewer, but not to the other Amazon consumers.
These types of reviews were acceptable up until 2016, but Amazon though better of it and decided to ban these reviews as of 2016. (Source)
This sounds like the right thing to do, but in fact this action only made things on the marketplace worse.
How the ban made the problem worse
Before the ban, the reviews were acceptable if the reviewer admitted that they were given the product for free by the seller.
Here’s a quick example from just before the ban, courtesy of ReviewMeta.com:
Just because you say it’s honest and unbiased doesn’t make it true.
Now that the ban is effect, the process hasn’t slowed down one bit. Instead they just don’t admit that they’ve been given the product for free. They just review it, making it incredibly hard to trace.
How Incentivized Review Scams Work Now
Reviewers and sellers have moved their relationship off Amazon, and onto social media instead. Interested parties join the ‘Amazon Review’ groups and sellers advertise their products on the group’s wall.
Reviewers who want the product message the seller and privately get the link to the product, which they then purchase on Amazon’s website. After the sale has gone through and the order arrives, the reviewer gives the seller a positive review. The seller then refunds the reviewers money through an off-Amazon service like Paypal or WeChat.
By keeping the refunds totally off of Amazon and through a different payment vendor, there’s no way for Amazon to have any hard evidence that the refund happened. As far as Amazon is concerned, a reviewer bought a product they were happy with.
Through this system, Amazon can’t tell if a review is fake or not.
Within minutes of researching around on Facebook we were surprised at just how many groups there are out there doing this.
Here’s just one of the examples (name and group censored to discourage practice):
This particular Facebook group has over 20,000 members, completely public, and started in November 2017. That’s over a year and a half after the ban took place.
They run a tight ship too. If a seller or reviewer doesn’t keep their end of the bargain, they are permanently banned from the group. They take it as seriously as any other aspect of their business.
On a side note, many of the sellers in these groups also request photos and videos in the review.
If you’re ever wondering why some Amazon reviews have a picture of the supplement bottle and no pictures of the user’s progress, this is probably the reason why.
This is just one of the ways your Amazon reviews are being manipulated. Just one. We still have a lot more ground to cover.
Spam Bots and Fake Accounts
This is a pretty old-school practice of fake Amazon reviews. Luckily, the algorithm over at Amazon is getting better at detecting these accounts.
They’re just a farm of bots that have been given the seller’s link and ordered to spam it with as many favorable reviews as possible.
Typically, they are badly written, and are usually alternate versions of the same phrase. Yahoo Finance found a classic case of this:
David Pogue did a great piece over there and you can check out his full article here: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/rise-fake-amazon-reviews-spot-175430368.html
More Complex Unreliable Reviews
There are some more complicated ones at play though, we did some digging one of the fat burners FakeSpot gave an F Grade to for some prime examples.
Here’s what a more complicated version of the one above looks like:
There’s clearly an agenda here;
- “My husband” – Humanizes the review, reducing suspicion. One of the people writing this was male – not impossible, but uncommon to see in these kind of reviews.
- Pill form is better – Apple Cider Vinegar is commonly sold as a liquid, they want to deter people away from that and onto their pill form alternative.
- Boosts Energy – Typically Apple Cider Vinegar is for fat loss, it has no stimulating properties, so this really stuck out to us as odd, and the reviews attempts to up-sell the product.
- Short Subjective Title! – Snappy two or three word titles are common in this type of review too with an exclamation mark. It gets your attention and is easy to do.
We’ll go into more detail on these later when it comes to ID’ing spam reviewers, but it’s clear that they’re they’re everywhere here.
It’s not limited to Spam Bots either, many freelancers online offer to use their Amazon accounts for reviews in exchange for cash.
Here’s one that we found just looking around on freelancer sites (name and business censored to discourage practice):
As you can see, this freelancer already has 2 jobs already in their queue and nearly 100 jobs completed. Imagine how many customers have been miss-sold over their handiwork.
Switching Out Older Products
This is one of the more underhanded ways of getting the ratings up in a product. It’s a blatantly dishonest way of getting the ratings up in a product. Luckily, however, it’s easier to detect.
Unlike other methods, all the reviews are completely honest, human written and genuine. None of the customers in this strategy have been given the product for free.
How they do it:
Sellers start off by selling a decent product for a reasonable price. It’s usually an obscure or niche item that has little competition and can rank well in that category on Amazon.
People buy it and the seller gets good reviews, the product is cheap and effective. The seller may even be losing money on each sale just to sell more of them – they’re playing the long game.
Once enough 5 star reviews have come in, the seller flips the item’s images, descriptions and titles. Now they can put up the product they actually wanted to sell, while still retaining that 5 star rating from the initial product.
This allows them to shoot up the rankings in more competitive markets, and use the 5 star status to convince new customers to buy in.
Here’s another good screenshot taken by the guys at Yahoo Finance:
We even found an example of this ourselves that we’ll show you later.
The key way to see through this scam is to start with the reviews that were written first in the back log of the product page. If it’s for a totally different supplement or product, the seller is trying to trick you.
Weaponizing Spam Reviews
This another tactic that is regularly used in the Amazon Marketplace. The method is exactly the same as what we’ve mentioned, but the intention is entirely different.
Instead of leaving hundreds of glowing reviews for their own product, the seller does it to their competition. However, they’re much more sloppy with their work.
In this case there is next to no difference between the quality of the reviews that are left on their competitor’s product – it’s entirely obvious that the reviews being left are fake. This makes customers less trustworthy of the reviews left on a product, and whether they should actually purchase it.
Not only that, it’s more detectable by Amazon’s algorithm too. This could incur a penalty on the affected product and push it down in the rankings or even have it removed from the Amazon store.
This makes things more confusing, because even if you find a product which has a range of low quality reviews, the product may not be the problem: their competition could be. It’s just another angle to consider in the current minefield which are untrustworthy Amazon reviews.
How You can Identify Fake Reviews
Now that we’ve covered how these sellers are influencing the marketplace, here’s an in-depth guide on how to catch them in the act.
See the Customer Reviews Box
This is the first thing you should look at; the overall ratings of the product. You can usually tell straight away if it is overwhelmingly positive.
Sadly, these are the current ratings for the first product that comes up when you type in ‘diet pill’:
This is embarrassing considering the demand for these products, and they have all the calling cards of suspicious reviews.
The first issue is that 97% of the reviews here are 5 stars, 2% are 4 stars and 1% is 1 star, out of 199 reviews.
Are you expected to believe that out of nearly 200 people, no one would rate a supplement 3 stars, or 2 stars? It’s incredibly suspicious. People either like it a lot, or hate it.
We had to read that one star review, here’s what it said:
So already we see two tactics at work here:
1. Switching out the product after the right amount of reviews
The majority of the reviews in here are actually for a different supplement. It appears to have changed once the ratings were high enough. We checked, and some of the reviews on here date back as early as 2007:
Again, we’ve blacked it out, but this mentions an even more different supplement to what our 1 star reviewer was claiming, and this one appears to be more of a digestive aid and laxative. Essentially a totally different product.
2. Majority of overwhelming reviews
Our 1 star reviewer fell prey to the sheer number of positive reviews.
Now it could be that this is fake reviewer trying to discourage sales of a competitor, however we don’t think there would just be one review like that if this was the case. It appears to be genuine, and more effort than most of the fake reviews we come across.
And if we believe this customer, they suffered severe side effects from the ingredients in this diet pill – and even had to seek medical attention.
Which begs the question; how many other times has something like this happened and the problems have gone unreported?
The potential damage could affect people’s health, not just their wallet.
Check the ‘Frequently Mention’ Section
This is the other part of the ratings section you should consider.
Always look at the ‘frequently mentioned’ keywords. These are the phrases that the majority of these reviews are saying. It can be a big tip off as to whether the reviews are real, or bots following a similar script.
This ‘frequently mention’ box comes from the same product we were just looking at:
Take a look at what they’re saying:
- “Highly recommended”
- “Really works”
- “Feel Better”
- “Lost 12lbs”
- “Recommend these to anyone”
- “Lost 5 Pounds”
Right away, you could put these on the sales copy of a supplement. They don’t seem genuine. Especially as people are frequently saying it can help them to lose either 5 lbs or 12 lbs. Surely it would be a mix of different numbers rather than just those two?
The fact that it is just these two numbers comes off as very suspicious.
When looking at the ‘frequently mentioned’ box, a good sign is if there are no specific ‘sales’ phrases in their. The more it reads like an advert, the more it probably is.
Patterns in Review Data
Whenever you’re concerned if the review you’re reading on Amazon may not be legitimate, check it against other reviews that already out there for the product.
Because of the sheer volume of fake review profiles out there, they need to be created at speed. In doing so, many of them appear similar, and have been put together in a sloppy fashion.
In many cases, the seller or party providing the reviews may even make the profiles private.
Take a look at this example that we found on a ketogenic diet pill. These were the top 3 reviews for this supplement:
There are three main things that should stand out to your immediately here, without even considering what they have written.
1. All Private Accounts
Every account out of these three are completely private. There’s no way to learn the identity of the reviewer or any of the other products that they have reviewed. This is very convenient if you’re using an account as a tool to spam good reviews on numerous products.
It’s not completely unheard of. People like their privacy. However, it is very suspicious that even the top three reviewers of this supplement are anonymous.
2. The Date
It’s also very odd that the top reviews for this supplement were all written on the same date: September 15th 2018. Actually the majority of the reviews on that page are written on September 15th. The rest have been written in early October – probably when the ratings allowed this product to rank.
Having the majority of reviews come in on one day is a definite sign that it was a one-man job. And they’re all private accounts too. It makes it look like these reviews were the result of an order to a review company that fulfilled the request that day.
It would be more convincing if the reviews were spread out a few days at a time. In it’s current state, it’s not believable at all.
3. Order Options that Don’t Exist
You’ll notice below the date on those reviews, the customers ordered a specific color of the product. This is a diet pill, it doesn’t come in colors – it’s all the same product.
In our opinion, we believe the reviews are fake. We think this was a product which had several color options when it was first posted, and the seller kept it away from the public. Then they bought several bottles of their own product, and left the reviews they wanted to leave so it could still say it was a Keto product, so when the switchover happened the reviews would still look convincing.
If you’re reading through reviews, and see that other customers have ordered options that don’t exist on the product, chances are that this was actually a different product before you found it. Don’t trust it.
How does the Product’s “Customers also bought…” section look?
This is a point that most people miss when looking for suspicious activity: the ‘Customers also bought’ section.
That will give you a rough idea of how hard the product you’re looking at has been affected by untrustworthy reviews.
By showing you what customers also bought with this item, Amazon is trying to show what products would go well with it, it’s their way of saying:
“Here’s what people usually buy with this supplement, these items go well with it. Buy them.”
It’s that kind of approach. However, if the products offered aren’t related to supplements – the page you’re on may have many untrustworthy reviews.
For example, in a page for a fat burner, we saw the following products offered to us:
The only product that was even close to a supplement, in that it was still in the health and beauty section had no reviews. Everything else, was completely irrelevant.
The reason for this is that these scam accounts aren’t hitting just one product, they’re hitting a few – Amazon takes note of this and unintentionally suggests the affected products to other shoppers.
You can take advantage of this to know which products have been affected, and if you can trust it. If the product combination doesn’t make sense to you, suspicious purchase activity from fake accounts could be the reason.
Identifying Suspicious Amazon Accounts
Now we go deeper. Rather than just looking at a list of reviews on an Amazon product, you should also test a few of the individual reviews.
This is what suspicious sellers don’t expect you to do. By digging this deep you can see exactly what the account in question has been buying and reviewing.
It makes it easier for you to see a pattern, and if you should trust what the account is saying about a product.
Below, we’ve prepared a list of questions you should ask yourself when studying another Amazon account:
Disclaimer: Not all of this will work on private/anonymous Amazon accounts. Bad sellers know this and choose to mask their reviewer profiles so you can’t see what they’re up to.
How active are they on Amazon?
This should be one of the first things you should be looking at when scrutinizing an Amazon account; their activity levels.
How often are they leaving reviews, and how many are they leaving at a time.
We did some digging on one of the one of the accounts that left a suspicious review on that Apple Cider Vinegar product we were looking at:
Here’s what tipped us off:
- “SO much better than the liquid” – This is the pill form is better argument all over again. It’s too scripted as almost every review on this product mentioned it.
- “More energized” – Still on script, despite the lack of evidence Apple Cider Vinegar boosts energy.
- Two letter name – We’ve censored it here, in case this user is innocent – but only having two letters for a name reeks of a spam account. If it’s not a real name, it’s unlikely to be a real person.
When we looked on this account’s profile we were expecting to find short reviews that were written in bulk around the same time, with the majority being overwhelmingly positive.
Did we find that? See for yourself:
This was just the first 8 reviews, in total they wrote 18 reviews on the 29th August. This makes up nearly half of all the reviews written up on this account.
All of the reviews were around 1 – 2 sentences with very little information. They appear to be there to justify the high rating to anyone scrolling through.
We can’t say for sure, but it’s very likely that this account is used for foul play.
What is their Average Rating?
This is definitely worth taking note of; how much do they give a product on average?
If you’re looking at either a mass of 1 stars, 5 stars, or a combination of both with very little in between, it’s very likely that you’re seeing an untrustworthy account.
These extreme ratings carry the most weight for a seller. By giving out as many of these as possible without trying to alert Amazon’s review algorithm is telling of a poor quality account.
If it seems that they’re being too generous (or too mean) with their ratings, be sure that they have a sufficient enough write up to justify what they’ve written.
How is the Review Written?
This is the next factor you need to consider. How much effort did they put into their write up?
If it’s an expensive product, or one that inspires a lot of opinions – you should be expecting a lot of content written up.
If you go back to the 8 reviews that we posted up of the account we looked at earlier, they wrote two lines on a purchase they made for a professional digital camera:
I have had this camera for a few months, and so far I have really enjoyed it! Takes sharp, clear pictures quickly. Easy to learn how to use. – Suspicious Amazon User
The option that they chose for that camera resulted in a $900 USD purchase. For spending close to $1000 you expect more of a review than it takes photos quickly and it’s easy to use.
Most cameras do that for a lot cheaper. It’s clear that they had no passion in what they were saying, and were just making sure there was some content there to support the 5 star rating.
Would you write that little on something that you spent $900 USD on? It’s very unlikely.
If the length of what they’ve written doesn’t match up with the amount they’ve spent, you should be very suspicious of what you’re reading.
Do they have a Wish List?
We can’t say for certain, as we couldn’t find any evidence of this, but apparently wish lists on customer profiles can also be telling if their account is untrustworthy.
Apparently, many spam accounts seem to add the same items to their wish lists, and when you compare several of these lists side by side, they all appear to have the same items.
This is useful information if you’re coming across accounts that do have publicly available wish lists – however, in our search it seems that most of the accounts we have come across now set these lists to private, or don’t have any put together.
Suspicious account makers may have gotten wise to this now, but we’ll keep this section in this article to help you find the few that are still doing it.
Are they working for Amazon Vine?
This isn’t a big one in the supplements industry, but you could still come across it: Amazon Vine.
What is Amazon Vine?
This is a Amazon’s own review program. They select reviewers which have a good history of leaving useful reviewers and begin sending them free products in return for leaving more reviews.
This is slightly better, but this could mean that there’s still some bias to the review. Why? Because sellers pay Amazon to give their product to Vine reviews (Source).
Whatever way you look at it, this is still an incentivized review. The seller has paid for a review, and the reviewer has received the product for free. Which again comes back to our view that if you get something for free, you’re more likely to give it positive feedback – it cost you nothing.
Luckily, these reviews are clearly marked by Amazon, so you can approach it with the skepticism it deserves.
Best Approach to Amazon Reviews
Now you know the dirty tactics of Amazon sellers, and how to spot them yourself – but what do you do now?
How do you act when you go onto Amazon and see reviews that you’re not sure of?
This is what we suggest…
Use FakeSpot.com (What we used for our data)
We were not paid for writing this article by Fakespot. They don’t even know that we’ve put it together – we just think their website is amazing and this article wouldn’t have been possible without them.
Their software for analyzing reviews is incredible, and all the additional data it shows you is great too. You just go to their website, paste the Amazon link into their search bar and they’ll process the reviews and give you the results.
They’ll even give you individual feedback on some of the reviewers involved if they look especially suspicious.
We can’t say that their algorithm for detecting fake reviewers is flawless, but it is a great tool for process a product’s reviews on a mass scale in a short period of time.
Bottom Line: You should always use your best judgement, but Fakespot.com is great tool for giving you a general idea of whether you should trust what you are reading.
Disregard Most 5 Star and 1 Star Reviews
As we’ve already covered, any review with that only has a few sentences and gives a verdict like 5 stars, or 1 star probably has an ulterior motive.
They just want their rating to look less suspicious, so they pad it out with some content. The only problem for them is that they have so many reviews to do, they don’t have time to go into detail.
Either that, or it’s a bot account, and being vague allows them to leave numerous reviews without causing a lot of suspicion. The more detail they go into the more obvious it is that it doesn’t directly acknowledge the product.
Bottom Line: Any 5 or 1 star reviews with a very small write up should be treated with high levels of suspicion.
Don’t Trust Anonymous/Private Accounts
Again, another point we’ve covered are private accounts. If you’re reading a lot of reviews and the majority of the writers are labelled ‘Amazon Customer’ you have a right to be extra critical.
Not that many people set their Amazon accounts to private, and those that do have all their account’s activity hidden. This makes it easy for untrustworthy accounts to leave untrustworthy feedback on as many products as they want, while still giving them the benefit of the doubt.
You can’t know if the review is genuine or not, because you can’t investigate the history of the account. So how can you trust it?
Bottom Line: Don’t trust private accounts. It’s likely that they don’t want you investigating them for a reason.
Ask “Would You Write That?”
This is another question that is great when reading reviews. When reading some of these reviews on Amazon, ask yourself, when you take supplements what is the kind of thing you would write?
Would you talk about the experience your husband’s younger brother had, like in the review we showed earlier?
Or would you take pictures of the supplement bottle on your desk? You have to admit, this doesn’t really add much to the review other than what the bottle looks like elsewhere.
When reading an Amazon review, stop and ask yourself why they would write those sentences and take those pictures. Is the product they’re talking about really worth all the effort?
If it is a $10 Green Tea supplement that you can get anywhere – would you be shouting about it on Amazon?
Bottom Line: Ask yourself why an Amazon review would say what they did about a product, and if you’d ever find yourself writing the same thing in a similar situation. Critical thinking is a great way to see through their tricks.
Cross Reference With Other Websites
This can help you out a lot. There are more people out there than those on Amazon who are talking about supplements. Don’t let Amazon customers be your final verdict.
For the best results you should get a general idea from the Amazon reviews (the ones that seem trustworthy) and then take to Google with your findings.
Find other sites that are talking about the supplement you are looking for and see if their findings match up with what you’ve found on Amazon. If they do, it’s likely that the product is legitimate and there shouldn’t be a problem if you decide to get it.
However, if it doesn’t match up with Amazon’s reviewers, check a few more websites to know for sure that there’s definitely a problem. Once you’ve got ideas from numerous sources, then you should make your decision.
Bottom Line: You shouldn’t just make a decision on the fact that a review lines up with what you want to hear. Try to make your decision with your head, not your heart.
Help Each Other Out
So far, we’re sure this is the only you can help Amazon keep track of the more risky reviewers out there.
There are two main tools that Amazon has available when looking at reviews that can help them deal with suspicious write ups:
- The “Not Helpful” Button
- “Report Abuse” Button
By saying a review is not helpful, can help bury it further down the page to avoid other less savvy customers from seeing it, protecting them from the deceit.
Reporting abuse sends the review off to an Amazon team member who can look into it more closely.
If more people did this while looking at products on Amazon, the website would have a lot more protection against these kinds of marketing attacks.
Bottom Line: This problem only goes away if more people step up and report suspicious reviews. Marking a review as ‘Not Helpful’ is good too, as this helps keep it further down the page away from more vulnerable customers.
Amazon Reviews Summary – Can You Trust Them?
As you can see, Amazon’s supplement marketplace has been compromised with untrustworthy reviews.
Not all the reviews on these supplements are unreliable, but a lot of are a cause for concern. We have outlined several ways in which Amazon sellers do this, the damage that it is having on the industry and how to respond to it.
From giving reviewers free products for a good review over social media, to paying middlemen to bribe Amazon for sales stats and removal of bad reviews. Whatever way you slice it, it’s an absolute mess.
You only have to look at our data to see how bad it’s gotten.
The more sellers do this, the more other sellers will have to get involved just to compete in the marketplace, and which leads to even more work for Amazon when it comes to policing it.
Scammers make more money, Amazon faces more work, honest sellers lose business, and the customer is left not knowing who to trust.
This article took a lot of work, and it wouldn’t be possible without some of the research already out there.
One of the main sources that helped us was the Yahoo Finance article we’ve previously linked by David Pogue.
After writing this article we sent a link off to David who approved of our work:
WOW!! That is one well researched, important story. And thank you for crediting mine! 🙂
— David Pogue (@Pogue) October 12, 2018
Which shows we’re going in the right direction, and motivates us to write more great content like this.
We love David’s pieces and you can read more from him over here: https://www.yahoo.com/author/david-pogue/
And of course, we have to thank Fakespot.com. Their review analyzer was more than effective in helping us put together this report.
They’ve now read the article as well, it’s great the publicity it is getting:
Fantastic story on the problem of fake supplement reviews that everyone should read because it provides great insights on how consumers continue to be deceived online. Thank you for using Fakespot in your research.
— FakespotTweets (@FakespotTweets) October 12, 2018
Over to You
We hope this article has given you enough knowledge to be more savvy during your shopping experience on Amazon.
Was it useful to you? Did we miss anything? Or want to discuss anything mentioned the article?
Let us know in the comments down below and get some discussion going, or visit our contact page and shoot us an email. We’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible.
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