Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
News and insight focusing on ecommerce.
by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Sat June 20 2015 16:45:51

Can Amazon Keep Product Reviews Clean with New Changes?

By: Ina Steiner

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Amazon is tweaking how it displays a product's rating and reviews - but will Amazon's new system make it easier for people to game the system? 

Geekwire says that instead of using an unweighted average to calculate ratings, Amazon will use a new "machine-learning algorithm." The idea is to make newer ratings count more than older ratings, for example. 

An Amazon spokesperson confirmed the changes, telling the online publication, "The enhanced system will use a machine-learned model to give more weight to newer, more helpful reviews from Amazon customers. The system will continue to learn which reviews are most helpful to customers and improve the experience over time."

In addition to changing the numeric rating, Amazon will also use an algorithm to determine the order of customer's product reviews.

The manipulation of seller and product ratings is as old as ecommerce - how many times have eBay sellers tried to boost their feedback, for example? And how many times have sellers tried to harm their competitors' ratings?

Another problem occurs when companies give bloggers free products to review, with the assumption of quid pro quo. Some bloggers proactively ask sellers for free products to review, as we discussed in this January blog post.

Seemingly most sellers would have less motivation for gaming Amazon product reviews than eBay sellers have for gaming seller feedback, since all sellers are associated with a particular product's ratings on Amazon - though if the seller is the manufacturer or brand owner, that's a different story. 

eBay is working on its own product reviews as it attempts to construct a product catalog - see this recent post, "Where Is eBay Hiding Product Reviews."

Amazon ratings and reviews are incredibly helpful - do you think it should toy with changing its current system? What changes, if any, would you make?

Note: It appears Cnet may have been first with this story.




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by: bobcat4424 This user has validated their user name.

Sat Jun 20 18:57:15 2015

What difference could it possibly make?  They always erase any reviews of comments they don't like.  

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by: skullaria This user has validated their user name.
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Sun Jun 21 13:53:59 2015

I think this article is somewhat misleading about product reviews.  Reviews aren't solicited ''quid pro quo'' at all.  Many vendors contact trusted reviewers to review products early, sometimes before they commit to buying a large inventory or setting a price point.  This is often why you see items with exorbitant price tags.  The listings are there primarily for reviewers.  There's also very committed reviewers that are in more 'trusted' categories, such as Top and Vine reviewers, with careful and conscientious disclosure.  This is the way reviews have always been done, be it for newspapers, magazines, or any other form of media.  These reviewers are free to leave any feedback they desire, and it is in their best interest to do so, as the public's trust is what gives them their status.

The problem has been with the coupon sites that encourage people that perhaps don't even review, to leave ONLY high ratings for items in return for the chance to get another item.  It has been, IMO, a head on collisions with the extreme coupon mentality, and it has been just a catastrophe, with users of these sites often becoming the most vocal about losing trust in Amazon's system!

Worse yet are the paid reviews, where people provide reviews on items they may have never seen, contracting with an agreement to leave a high rating for a cash fee.  This has always been against Amazon's policy.

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by: Moonwishes This user has validated their user name.
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Mon Jun 22 01:49:18 2015

I am an Amazon Vine Reviewer and have been for quite a few years. There is no quid pro quo at least not with me. While it is acknowledged that some of the Vine reviewers don't do the job they are supposed to as in giving reviews of items they haven't even tried, the majority of us take our reviews very seriously. I also do product and book reviews when asked by independent companies and authors if the item or book interests me. In the past month I got two books put out by the same publishing company. One was given 2 stars and the other 5 and I would have given 10 if allowed. I have written reviews on products that were shabbily made to the point someone from the company came to mine and other reviewers and explained that we had only been sent prototypes and we were somehow (my word not theirs) supposed to review the product as if it were the complete ready for market item. That would mean a lot of guess work and faith on our part and that isn't how I gives reviews, especially for something that literally fell apart in my hands. One book from an independent author (not through Amazon) was irate that I gave his book 1 star (couldn't give lower) said I couldn't finish it and called it pornographic. From what the guy wrote to me he is a confirmed crazy in my book!

One of the most interesting things about writing reviews is the comments that people make, most who have never written a review themselves or at best a one sentence review. I was called on the carpet for 'spoiling' a story by mentioning that in the autobiography I was reviewing the author was fighting breast cancer. Well since it was stated in the very first paragraph of the book I'm not sure how much that could have spoiled the book for any one!

It is a crazy world out there for reviewers, but I have learned a lot. I never take money for reviews only the actual book or product. Does anyone want to know about the fantastic toaster oven I got to review that at this point if it broke down would be immediately replaced we depend on it so much???

As to the previous posters opinion that reviews that are bad are erased, I've never seen any evidence of that and I have left reviews with 1 to 5 stars. I am concerned though about the thought that newer reviews should take precedence over older ones. If I read and reviewed a book 3 years ago how does that make some one that leaves a review today the better one and give it more weight? Unless they are looking for the 'helpful' ratings and I doubt that most readers even bother with that. I know I don't when reading reviews.

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by: GotToGetOut This user has validated their user name.

Mon Jun 22 08:12:48 2015

Moonwishes, thanks for giving us some first hand knowledge. Interesting.

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by: val2525 This user has validated their user name.

Mon Jun 22 10:25:12 2015

I always sort product reviews at retailer sites by newest.  If the retailer has sold that product for years, I want to know how the latest shipment fared, not the batch from 3 years ago.  I mainly buy clothing, and retailers change manufacturers all the time.  So latest is most accurate as to quality changes.  I don't know that it's the same for other product categories, however.

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by: Moonwishes This user has validated their user name.
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Tue Jun 30 14:30:42 2015

@ val2525, Your comment about products being made over the years, I can understand if you want to be sure that the item is still being made well. Amazon, last I looked has Kindle reviews of the various assorted Kindles that have come out over the years (at least that is what it looked like to me when I got my Kindle) and for sure you would want to see a review about the latest product.

Some things are just not going to change like books and movies, unless somewhere along the line they are edited. A book that got 5 stars 3 years ago should still be garnering 5 stars now. So I hope that when tweaking their algorithm for some products they will take into account these sorts of questions.  



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