A Fake Amazon Reviewer Confesses
Russ Taylor was looking for a very good espresso machine. So the Atlanta lawyer did what many of us would–he surfed to Amazon.com and began trolling user reviews for high-end espresso makers.
On the DeLonghi Perfecta Digital Super-Automatic Espresso Machine, an $1,800 metallic blue machine with a built-in burr grinder and five coffee-strength settings, he saw that user “T. Carpenter,” a self-described “espresso addict,” raved about the product. Then he saw that the same user had posted an ecstatic writeup for another, less-expensive DeLonghi model. Could it be that the espresso addict had two high-end machines?
As he chronicled on his blog, he clicked on the Amazon reviewer’s profile. (It has since been taken down by Amazon.) Taylor found that “T. Carpenter” was indeed a gadget aficionado, having written 12 reviews. All for DeLonghi products, and all raves rated with 5 stars.
He did a Google search and found that a Tara Carpenter was employed as a communications manager with the company. (Screenshots are on his blog.) He says he notified DeLonghi customer service and received a cursory email with no response to his specific questions regarding the reviews. So he contacted us.
We called DeLonghi, where a representative confirmed that Tara Carpenter is employed by DeLonghi and did write the reviews. The company issued the following response:
The Amazon.com guidelines “prohibit positive reviews for products in which the author has a financial investment in,” and for that reason only, the reviews were removed from the Amazon website. While T. Carpenter did not personally gain any financial stake in the process, we have since opted to respond to on line reviews in a more official capacity using the vendor response platform provided by Amazon to clarify product use and care issues, or address specific compliments or suggestions by the consumer community.
We find no false statements in any of the reviews posted by T. Carpenter. Our employees are passionate about the products we make and sell and this is a quality we are quite proud of in all our associates.
Carpenter will continue to be employed at DeLonghi.
Amazon user reviews are a powerful tool for shoppers. And companies know it. (Belkinexperienced a similar snafu for faking positive reviews.) The thought that some would masquerade as objective users is upsetting to Taylor and poses a problem for Amazon, which hosts millions of user reviews and strives to keep them all legit.
Amazon guidelines for reviews state that a customer needs to have made a purchase on the site. They’re filtered for naughty things and allow readers to flag sketchy listings, which are then reviewed and removed, if necessary. Ratings themselves are also graded for how helpful they were, creating an incentive for constructive feedback.
They also prohibit “the use of the Service for commercial purposes such as advertising, promotion, or solicitation” and “the impersonation of any person or entity or forging of any e-mail communication or any part of a message.”
Amazon has to police a huge and exponentially growing space. So it’s up to shoppers to take any star rating or comment with a grain of salt. The real-life equivalent would be questioning someone standing outside a store yelling “shop here!”
“I think the majority of reviews are fantastic reviews,” Russell Dicker, Amazon’s senior manager of community content says.
Dicker declined to comment on specifics of how Amazon spots phony listings for security reasons. (The U.S. government isn’t going to tell us all the things that make a dollar bill special, either.) “Making reviews helpful and making them a pristine source of consumer opinion is incredibly important to us,” he says.
Don’t Trust Amazon Reviews: They’re Fake
So I thought I would address an issue that’s bothering me: Amazon (fake) reviews.
Most people who are thinking about buying a book head off to Amazon to read the reviews. Many of you do this and put little thought to the validity and source of the reviews. There is a dark side to the Amazon review system: it’s actively being gamed by both unscrupulous authors and publishers.
Never thought about that did you? The Amazon review system is vulnerable to anyone who wants to take advantage of it. Practically anyone can post a review on Amazon undery any pseudonym. The word on the street is that publishers pay marketing firms to “promote” their books on the web. One of these “promotional” tactics, probably the most effective book sale-wise, is to register a medley of fake personas and use them to pad the 5 Star review ratings of a book on Amazon. Yes, this takes some effort on the part of a person, but one or two people determined to give top ratings to a book can easily spend a couple days (or weeks) writing up fake reviews and posting the on Amazon. There are entire marketing teams out there that are dedicated to this. A publisher’s own marketing team might even do this.
Why would publishers and authors sell out their ethics to try and con people into buying books? Money, lads, it’s all about money. Success or failure can rest upon the Amazon rating. Now for big name authors, their books’ Amazon ratings may not matter so much – they have such a reputation and presence in bookstores that the average Joe will just buy the book off the shelve without doing research first. But new authors and authors who publish in smaller genres often earn their bread from the Amazon review system. A drop of a star can make a significant difference in the sales of the book. It should come as no surprise then that people will try and game the Amazon rating sytem to generate more money.
You can bet your mother and your first born child that many authors and even more publishers stoop to posting fake, glowing reviews. Can I directly proof this; no. Am I positive? Yes.
Why does Amazon allow this? Because they make a lot of money from this. Sales of books mean money in Amazon’s pocket. It’s kind of like eBay trying to stop seller of counterfeit items. With each sale of a fake purse, eBay get’s a commission. So why would they actually want to do something about stopping it? It’s taking money out of t heir pocket. Amazon, my readers, has even less reason than eBay, who is at least being sued by the companies affected by the fake products being sold. So Amazon is happy, the publishers making money from the fake reviews are happy, and the authors are probably happy as well, given that they benefit from the process. Do all authors write fake reviews? Probably not, but there are a lot that certainly do.
How To Protect Yourself From Fake Amazon Reviews
So if you are scoping the Amazon reviews and trying to make a buying decision, here are three things you can do to protect yourself.
1. Read the 3 STAR (and below) ratings.
More often than not, these are the real reviews, not publisher-paid fake review crap. These reviews often show the true substance of the book. ALWAYS take 5 star reviews with a grain of salt and then some. If you really want to be sure, take a look at what other reviews the review has written. If there are lots of different genres and books reviews, it’s probably a real review. One of the signatures of a fake review is that the “review” only has a couple other reviews (though they could have a lot of reviews if the persona is used on regular basis — say as a job), and the reviews are all about the same author’s books.
2. Look for the Cons
Usually these fake publisher reviews give a gushy 4-5 star rating. If there are no negative points listed, be very wary. Rarely is a book so perfect as that. If there are negative points listed, make sure the rating makes sense. Some fake reviews list a couple negative points as a matter of principle, just to make the review look genuine. You will also note that the language and style of some fake reviews look the same. That’s because they are often written by the same person. More on this below.
3. Search the Web for Blog Book Reviews
Type the name of the book + “review” in google. High profile genre book blogs will often show up with reviews of the book on em. Read a couple of these reviews. These reviews are often far more trust worthy than any review you’ll find on Amazon.
A Portrait of an Amazon Fake Review: Case Study
Now, it’s nice to talk about all this in theory, but let’s do a bit of a case study. Let me present to you the biggest online fake review scammer of them all: Robert Stanek (or Robert Stinkit as I like to call him). This guy has mastered to art of posting fake, glowing, smary reviews about his books. And he’s apparently made a great living off doing it. Robert Stanek is the worst writer in the fantasy genre. All his books are self-published, and they are utter and complete crap. But, if you look on Amazon, you will notice he has 300 + reviews with almost perfect 5 star ratings. Don’t believe me, check outRobert Stanek Fake Amazon Reviews