Amazon accused of 'betraying' customers with its top picks

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
A man holds an Amazon Prime package, in Berlin, Germany. Photo: Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

Amazon has been accused of promoting potentially shoddy products to customers after its recommendation system was ‘gamed’ by fake and suspicious reviews.

Consumer review magazine Which? said on Thursday it found potentially poor quality products earning the ‘Amazon’s Choice’ badge on the platform. Amazon awards this badge to third party products sold on its platform. Earning the title leads to much higher promotion in product rankings, potentially boosting sales.

Which? reviewed 200 ‘Amazon’s Choice’ products and found examples of suspicious reviews that it believed were fake. It gave examples of a dashboard camera and extreme sports camera where multiple reviewers mentioned redeeming free gifts.

It suggests customers were being given free accessories in exchange for positive reviews. Having a high average rating from users is one of the metrics that Amazon looks at when awarding its choice recommendation.

“Amazon risks betraying the trust millions of customers place in the Amazon’s Choice badge by allowing its endorsement to be all too easily gamed,” said Natalie Hitchins, Which?’s head of home products and services.

Not only did many of the products feature suspicious reviews, many of the products themselves seemed suspect. Which? said it hadn’t heard of nearly two-thirds of the tech brands awarded ‘Amazon’s Choice’ and a third of the brands did not have any website.

“Amazon must ensure its customers aren’t being misled about the products it is recommending to them — or reconsider whether it should continue with the endorsement in its current form,” Hitchins said.

A spokesperson for Amazon said: “We don’t tolerate Amazon policy violations, such as review abuse, incentivised reviews, counterfeits or unsafe products.

“When deciding to badge a product as Amazon’s Choice, we proactively incorporate a number of factors that are designed to protect customers from those policy violations. When we identify a product that may not meet our high bar for products we highlight for customers, we remove the badge.”

Amazon confirmed it had removed its recommendation from a number of products flagged by Which? but didn’t give specifics.

“Amazon’s Choice highlights highly-rated, well-priced products that are available to ship immediately,” the spokesperson said. “Amazon’s Choice is our choice for a product we think customers may like, and customers can always shop for any brand or product that they want to purchase.”

Hitchins called for the UK’s competition regulator to launch a full review into fake reviews online.

“This is yet further evidence that the CMA needs to investigate how fake reviews are being used to manipulate online shoppers,” she said. “It must take the strongest possible action against sites that fail to tackle this problem.”