Fraudulent reviews and Amazon’s (historical) lack of policing is an issue that creates concern for many advertisers. In the worst cases, fake reviews claim a brand’s products are counterfeit when, in fact, they’re not. Amazon, in an effort to be vigilant about marketplace legitimacy, automatically bans accounts after a few such reports. You can imagine the issues this causes with genuine sellers being penalized for “fake” products. Basically, fraud wins.
In Amazon’s defense, there’s an intense level of difficulty in policing more than three billion product reviews from over 500,000 sellers. If you’re taking a cynical view, you could argue it’s not in Amazon’s best interests to be too diligent in the removal of fraudulent listings, since they get a percentage of every sale.
This type of conundrum isn’t unique to Amazon. In fact, it’s reminiscent of an issue Google experienced with trademarks and AdWords many years ago. Advertisers wished to block rival companies from using their trademarked terms as search keywords, but Google hugely benefited from these competitive ad buys. In 2013, a compromise was made: trademarks can be used in (hidden) keywords, but not in ad copy itself.
Amazon does seem to recognize the scope of this problem — and the potential for long-term loss of consumer trust, plus the damage it could do to their vendor, seller, and brand relationships — if they don’t act. And if the impetus for outstanding customer service isn’t enough, they may also be held liable by the SEC.
It’s worth noting that this issue is also strongly at odds with two of Amazon’s core leadership principles, a public (and playfully worded) set of edicts that the company places at the center of their operations: Earn Trust and Customer Obsession.
Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.
Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.
To date, the most notable move Amazon has made to address this issue is launching Project Zero, a machine learning tool that widens and hastens the speed at which fake products can be removed. The ultimate vision is to reduce counterfeits on the platform to zero, which in turn would eliminate the confusion over fake reviews altogether. However, until a foolproof system is put into place, the onus is on the brand to stay vigilant and play a strong role in policing fake reviews.