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Turns out you might not want to trust Amazon's star reviews

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The best things in life are free - but it turns out that's bit of a problem when it comes to Amazon reviews. 

Analysis of some seven million product reviews on Amazon by ReviewMeta has discovered that those customers who receive free or discounted item are skewing the site's product star ratings.  

The research went digging for "incentivised" reviews - any review in which an individual includes the following comment in their review of a product:

I received this product for free or at a discount in exchange for my honest, unbiased review

However, while astute shoppers may skim over the details of such reviews for fear of avoiding potential bias, an issue arises from the star ratings of these reviews. 

"We found that reviews containing language that would indicate the reviewer received the item for free or at a discount in exchange for a review (incentivised reviews) on average rate the product 0.38 stars higher than reviews that did not contain this disclosure (non-incentivised reviews)", explains the ReviewMeta report.

While a difference of 0.38 stars might not sound massive, it makes the world of difference if your 'incentivised' product sits above a non-incentivised product by virtue of these reviews: the average review score of an item on Amazon is 4.4 (generous, but it's what happens when you buy something you know you're going to like), so by pushing a review score to 4.78, a product will rank much higher than those sitting below 4.4 stars.

The report also found that incentivised reviewers are 12 times less likely to give a 1-star rating than non-incentivised reviews.

While Amazon's customer review guidelines have a strict ban in place for paid reviews or reviews with compensation, they do allow for 'incentivised' reviews

"The sole exception to this rule is when a free or discounted copy of a physical product is provided to a customer up front. In this case, if you offer a free or discounted product in exchange for a review, you must clearly state that you welcome both positive and negative feedback. If you receive a free or discounted product in exchange for your review, you must clearly and conspicuously disclose that fact."

ReviewMeta is keen to point out that no rules are being broken by these reviewers, and that they are "real people who had a real experience with the actual product", often contacted through 'Review Club' services that link product manufacturer's and real people. Review clubs are third party organisations that exist to act as middle men between product sellers who need to encourage high-star ratings, and reviewers eager to get their hands on products. They'll amass thousands of products requiring reviews, getting paid by the sellers to pass the goods onto reviewers. Big parties include:

However, while no rules are being broken, the research data suggests that those who aren't giving out free products in return for reviews, or who aren't paying Review Clubs to send out their product, will be falling behind those that do. While Review Clubs aren't banned by Amazon, the research of ReviewMeta points out that Amazon has no control over the conduct of review clubs - many of which explicitly inform their reviews that their reviews must be between four and five stars. 

Want to filter out this kind of review? Unsurprisingly, ReviewMeta offers that exact service - hence why it would engage in this research in the first place. Our advice? Read around, realise that incentives might have been given for a review, and never trust everything you read on the internet. 

[Via: The Guardian]

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