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Amazon Makes Court Case Out of Sellers Who Buy Reviews

The word-of-mouth trust conveyed by a product review can make or break a sale. Some enterprising sellers have opted over time to speed up the process of gathering reviews by purchasing them, but Amazon has been expressing its unhappiness with the practice by purging reviewers from their site – and in some cases, pursuing legal action against egregious cases.

Amazon sought out such justice in substantial quantities too, with TechCrunchnoting the company admitted to suing over a thousand reviewers who took cash to post reviews on its marketplace. (Curious about these sites? Consumerist wrote about five of them in an April story that includes a link to a lawsuit Amazon filed against them.)

Now, Amazon has expanded its pursuit from reviewers to the sellers who purchasethose bogus reviews.

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Three names in particular were on the receiving end of Amazon’s pre-Memorial Day weekend filings. Corporate Counsel reported that Amazon commenced arbitrations on May 27 against the “three sellers where fake reviews allegedly make up 30 to 45 percent of the overall reviews. Amazon’s claims will be heard by the American Arbitration Association.”

“Amazon alleges the sellers breached contractual obligations to Amazon, deceived consumers in violation of the Federal Consumer Protection Act and the Lanham Act, and were unjustly enriched as a result of their wrongful conduct,” the report also said.

In some cases, the reviewers who posted on Amazon may have believed they were doing nothing harmful on the site. A lengthy discussion on Amazon’s Top Reviewers forum detailed the ways reviewers may have “helped a vendor violate Amazon’s term for sellers.” Among those methods are reviewing products where the reviewer received a discount code from the vendor for the item, and adding items to an Amazon wish list at a vendor’s request, according to one poster.

These seemingly innocuous practices could have greater repercussions for the review landscape. A CU-Boulder study cited in May by GeekWire called online reviews an “illusion” when it comes to indicating product quality.

“Accurately evaluating product performance is not an easy task,” Bart de Langhe, author of the study and professor of marketing at CU-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business, said in a statement at the study’s release. “Different alternatives need to be evaluated side by side under the same conditions using objective measurement instruments. You can’t assume that people follow such a scientific approach before they rate products online.”

“The likelihood that an item with a higher user rating performs objectively better than an item with a lower user rating is only 57 percent,” de Langhe also said, indicating such comparisons are barely better than a coin flip when choosing between such products.

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David A Utter

David A. Utter is a freelance writer based in Lexington, KY. He has covered technology topics from search to security to online business and has been quoted in places like ZDNet and BusinessWeek. He considers his appearance on NPR’s “All Things Considered” with long-time host Robert Siegel a delightful highlight. You can find him on Twitter @davidautter and on LinkedIn.


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