Business / Tech

“Amazon’s Choice” gamed by false advertisers and manipulated listings

Amazon's Choice

The increase in sales from being “Amazon’s Choice” — often over 25% according to some Amazon sellers — can result in a big payday.

Image compiled from photo available at Wikimedia Commons

When shopping online, reviews and recommendations are supposed to help you make an informed decision. “Amazon’s Choice” is one way the e-commerce giant supposedly separates the wheat from the chaff — so to speak. In fact, when mousing over the badge on the e-commerce site, it states that it “recommends highly-rated, well-priced products available to ship immediately.”

So what makes a product “Amazon’s Choice” worthy? According to past admissions, the badge is largely driven by algorithms and, as any computer or internet-savvy person knows, algorithms can be gamed. A recent Wall Street Journal investigation has found just how far that algorithm has been gamed by false advertisers and manipulated listings. The algorithm manipulation has even resulted in products that go against Amazon’s own policies being awarded the coveted badge.

This isn’t the first time Amazon has come under fire for reviews and recommendations. Sellers are often able to show reviews for other similar products and not the specific product in question. Oftentimes, free product is “sold” in exchange for a favourable review.

As for the “Amazon’s Choice” badge, the WSJ found products including falsely advertised Mi-certified Apple chargers, a sexual-enhancement drink containing Viagra (a prescription-only medication), a dietary supplement containing N-methyltyramine (which currently sits on the FDA’s advisory list of ingredients), and more.

When the WSJ analyzed products with 4-star or higher ratings, they found that over 75% of products on the first 50 pages in the Sports Nutrition and Vitamins and Dietary Supplements had “Amazon’s Choice” badges. Products in Health Care, Office & School Supplies, Men’s Clothing, and Women’s Clothing were awarded the badge roughly 50% of the time. Of the 54,400 listings the WSJ looked at in the top ten Amazon categories, 27,100 had the badge.

Some of the key findings of the Wall Street Journal investigation, as listed by the WSJ, include:

  • The badge favored Amazon’s own products. The AmazonBasics brand had the most Amazon’s Choice badges, 540, of any brand identified by the Journal.
  • The Journal identified dozens of products that fail to meet safety standards, banned items, and listings falsely claiming official safety certification. A children’s musical instrument claiming FDA approval was Amazon’s Choice for customers searching for “noisy toys for 2 year old,” although the FDA doesn’t approve toys.
  • Amazon’s Choice items came up when using some search terms for controlled substances such as steroids and marijuana products. A search for “psilocybin,” a hallucinogenic illegal in the U.S., offered “smart shrooms” with the badge.
  • Nearly 1,600 listings showed signs of being manipulated by sellers attempting to obtain the badges—appearing to have tricked Amazon’s algorithm by promoting keywords that were highly specific, were misspelled to capture customers’ mistyping or contained brand names of other items.

So, as you can see from the investigation, “Amazon’s Choice” may not be all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, the WSJ quoted a former Amazon executive as stating the reason for using the verbiage Choice over Recommends is because “[w]e chose it carefully to try to signal that this is a great product, but this is not something that we endorse.”

The “Amazon’s Choice” badge has more implications than just appearing for people searching for products online. Apparently, when ordering through your Amazon Echo speaker, buying something generically, for example toothpaste, will result in an “Amazon’s Choice” product being sold and shipped out to you over a non-badged item. As you can imagine, the increase in sales — often over 25% according to some Amazon sellers — can result in a big payday.

An Amazon spokesperson was quick to point out that when an offending product is reported, the badge is removed and the product as well.

How much of your buying decisions do you base on online recommendations and reviews? Do you click to purchase an “Amazon’s Choice” over a similar, non-recommended product? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter, Facebook, or MeWe.

  Source: The WSJ
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