Amazon’s Bait-and-Switch Reviews

Nicole Nguyen, writing for Buzzfeed News in 2018:

The next time you come across an Amazon product with hundreds or thousands of reviews, look closely. You might find some of them are for completely different products.


The mismatch between the product and the review may appear random, perhaps a glitch, but it’s a deliberate tactic Amazon sellers use to accumulate reviews. They take an existing product page, then update the photo and description to show an entirely different product. By retaining all the existing reviews, the new product looks more tested and legitimate to shoppers — and in the world of online reviews, quantity is key. More ratings make a product appear to be more well-reviewed and, ultimately, boosts sales.

Timothy B. Lee, writing for Ars Technica today:

When I sorted the reviews by date, I saw that the most recent reviewers actually had bought a drone and they were overwhelmingly not giving it five stars. “Bought this for my Grandson,” a customer wrote on December 26. “He played with it for 2 hours before it broke and is no longer working.” He gave the drone one star.

But the older reviews were for honey. Apparently, the manufacturer had tricked Amazon into displaying thousands of reviews for an unrelated product below its drone, helping the drone to unfairly rise to the top of Amazon’s search results.

The story was similar for the second and third results in my drone search. Both had thousands of reviews with five-star averages. In both cases, many of the five-star reviews were obviously for other products — including a bottle of vodka, a bracelet, and a box of Christmas cards.

This form of review fraud is so trivial for a seller to do but it is invaluable given the number of people who, according to Nguyen’s reporting, only look at the star rating. It is also something that Amazon should be able to guard against.

Stuff like this — and the bizarre pseudo-brands, and counterfeit products, and the terrible website — is why it is difficult to see Amazon as a trustworthy shopping paradise instead of an endless parade of Canal Street hawkers.