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Can Amazon (AMZN) Fix Its Incentivized Reviews Problem?

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According to extensive new research, a large number of “incentivized reviews” on Amazon (AMZN - Free Report) are creating a noticeable bias throughout the site. These reviews are currently allowed under Amazon’s guidelines, which means the company might need to take action before this problem gets out of control.

Paid-For Opinions

Incentivized reviews are those in which the customer has been given a product for free or at discount in exchange for a write-up on Amazon. Reviewers typically disclose this information within the post, and according to Amazon’s guidelines, these reviews usually include phrasing that insinuates the customer’s opinion is unbiased.

However, after looking at over 7 million Amazon reviews, ReviewMeta.com found that these incentivized reviews are blatantly skewed in favor of the companies that have provided the product.

“We found that reviews containing language that would indicate the reviewer received the item for free or at a discount in exchange for a review on average rate the product .38 stars higher than reviews that did not contain this disclosure,” the site, which analyzes reviews for every product on Amazon, found.

While the difference of less than half a star may seem insignificant, ReviewMeta is quick to highlight the importance of such a variance.

“Considering that the average product on Amazon is rated around 4.4 stars, a boost from 4.36 to 4.74 stars can mean the difference between a mediocre product and a top rated product,” the site said.

What It Means

Of course, customers on Amazon are free to interpret these reviews however they want, and ReviewMeta does point out that a growing number of shoppers are becoming aware of incentivized posts.

However, although customers may immediately discredit posts claiming to bias-free, these reviews do affect the overall rating of the product on Amazon. Shoppers don’t usually have time to dissect each and every review of a product, which means that companies willing to shell out a few free samples may benefit from Amazon’s growing incentivization problem.

Fixing the Issue

If Amazon cares enough to sort this problem out, it does have the power to clean-up its review sections by controlling the types of posts that stay on the site.

As we’ve learned from the controversy surrounding Yelp YELP, review-based sites are allowed to curate their posts. Yelp was awarded that privilege from a series of court decisions made in response to lawsuits that claimed the site was maliciously skewing its reviews, but the same principle should apply to Amazon; not every post on an e-commerce site has to stay up.

Amazon may need to act quickly if incentivized reviews continue to grow in frequency and bias.

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