Amazon Reviews

Like to read Amazon reviews? You might not be getting fully accurate information.

To give a disclaimer, we realize that this isn’t exactly an end-of-the-world, iCloud hack, headline-breaking type of story. But, we notice the details at Echidna, and we care about the little things. This is one of those little things. And it could affect the buying patterns of you and millions of others.

A hole in Amazon reviews

It all started when we were innocently reminiscing on an old video game, Halo 4 (don’t ask us why). Okay, if you really want to know, let’s just say, hypothetically, that an individual at Echidna had written a critical review of the game on Amazon that was marked as helpful by a good number of folks. That specific review even had a good run sitting in the “Most Helpful Critical Review” spot. Sadly, it has since been supplanted. While that’s to be expected (no one can stay on top forever), it was surprising to see that in its place is a review with only three helpful votes to its name. An incriminating screenshot of the evidence is below:

Halo 4 Review on Amazon

So while there are reviews with much more critical mass to their helpful/not-helpful rankings, Amazon’s algorithm must go based more on simple percentages, which is ridiculous. It not only affects the two “Most Helpful” spotlight reviews — it also affects the order of the main chunk of reviews, which are sorted by helpfulness by default. And in case you think this is a problem isolated just to Halo 4, it’s not. After searching for no more than a minute, the same phenomenon was seen across many products, including the diapers below:

Diapers Review on Amazon

It’s possible to game Amazon’s review system

You might be asking why this matters. Well, whether you’re simply a consumer, a merchant on Amazon, or a company whose products are sold on Amazon, something like this could have big implications for you personally.

  • It affects the buying patterns of consumers: At the most basic level, many users on Amazon take reviews seriously when considering different products. And when the most helpful reviews are spotlighted and listed first, they’re going to have a greater impact on consumers’ perceptions of the product being offered. So the accuracy and weight of the most helpful reviews is important.
  • Competitors can dishonestly manipulate consumers: Take it one step further, and this hole in Amazon’s reviews system could be used in a sinister fashion. We know that you, as an upstanding citizen, would never take advantage of the hole and manipulate users, but your competitors, well, they might be another story. All they would need to do is write a favorable (or even a gently critical) review and mark it as helpful from a few other accounts, and boom, they have custom spotlight reviews. And they can thus gain an unfair advantage over you, through sales and popularity on Amazon, which can actually lead to them gaining more legitimate reviews, as backwards as that is.
  • Competitors can sabotage your products: To go further still, competitors can even write negative reviews for your product, mark them as helpful, and constantly keep a very unfavorable review in the spotlight area for your product. And since we already established that you’re too honest to do such a thing in return, it’s obviously not fair for your competitors to ruin your reviews.

Amazon needs to patch the hole

As we said at the beginning of this post, this isn’t exactly a scandal, but Amazon should ultimately take responsibility for the credibility of its reviews and fix this problem. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it will ultimately benefit Amazon by strengthening its dominance and instilling even more confidence in its users on both the merchant and customer sides. If you buy or sell on Amazon (who doesn’t?), then we would urge you to strongly consider sharing this post in order to bring it to Amazon’s attention.

Luke Johnson
Luke Johnson
Luke once aspired to be a zoologist and first read of the elusive echidna when he was just a young boy. Feel free to email him with any questions related to marketing.