How much trust do you put into those 5-star reviews on Amazon, or glowing reviews on any e-commerce site, for that matter? Smart online shoppers know to thoroughly research a product before forking over part of a payday, but when a $10 Kindle cover boasts a 4.9 rating out of nearly 5,000 reviews, would you really be suspicious of shenanigans in a sample size that large? Perhaps you should be.
An investigation led by The New York Times exposes why user reviews can be problematic. More specifically, it's the abuse of the user review system that's a problem. According to the article, a company called VIP Deals was offering a rebate on Amazon.com last month on a 'Vipertek' brand premium slim black leather case for the Kindle Fire, effectively bringing the $60 list price down to $10. One of the user comments tipped off that something foul might be going on.
"I would have done 4 stars instead of 5 without the deal," a user posted.
A representative for VIP told NYT in an email that it was "totally off base" in suggesting the company was offering kickbacks in exchange for positive reviews, but interviews with other customers suggested otherwise. They said that the product shipped with a letter indicating VIP would issue refunds in exchange for writing reviews. The letter didn't outright ask for 5-star ratings, though it strongly hinted at it.
"We strive to earn 100 percent perfect 'FIVE-STAR' scores from you!," the letter said, according to NYT.
Just like not all merchants would sink to that level, not all customers are willing to be bribed for positive reviews. One of the users wrote on Amazon that "This is an egregious violation of the ratings and review system used by Amazon." The problem is not everyone is as ethical, and one shopper even jumped on his case, saying VIP's payback model "is not a scam but an incentive."
Amazon has since removed VIP's products from its websites, which included cases and stun guns.