Amazon doesn't want to hear about vendors' bribery attempts

With more and more purchases being made online, product reviews on major e-commerce sites like Amazon.com have quickly become more important to a product's success than expensive ad campaigns.

This value hasn't gone unnoticed by online retailers, who have quickly made user reviews a a standard feature for online stores. It didn't take too long after that for companies to catch onto the power of the reviews either, which has led some to try and bribe users for better reviews. That's exactly what happened to one Amazon customer, but when he called attention to the bribery in his product review, Amazon deleted it not once but TWICE.

According to the Consumerist, after Robert Murphy ordered an anti-snoring mouthguard the manufacturer emailed him to offer a second one free if he would leave a 5-star rating for the product on Amazon. When he included this attempted bribe in his review, Amazon removed the information, suggesting a one sentence review sans bribe. The customer service agent who removed the account of attempted bribery cited Amazon's review policy, which does not allow timely or bibliographic information in product reviews.

You'd think a company that was lambasted just last week for "accidentally" pulling the sales ranks of gay and lesbian books would be a little more careful about customer service this week.

The problem isn't with Amazon's policy regarding reviews. When used right it's actually a consumer-friendly idea. It's meant to prevent a customer from rating a product low because of a customer service issue with a third party seller.

It's great that Amazon polices this issue; in fact I wish more retailers did. Newegg.com, my favorite place to buy computer parts, is littered with reviews that rate a perfectly good product as one star because it took too long to ship or has a return policy that a customer didn't like. Without careful consideration of these off-base reviews, the value of a rating system is greatly diminished.

Despite good intentions, Amazon is asleep at the wheel on this one. Since the mouthguard's manufacturer was doing the bribing, rather than a specific seller, this policy isn't applicable. The attempted bribe is an important piece of information that customers should know about. Amazon also needs to have some way of reporting these infractions in a manner that will impact the manufacturer, so that users aren't misled by bribes. With the FTC cracking down on product reviewing bloggers, how long until they focus on bribed product reviews on Amazon and other popular stores?

Sellers aren't the only ones to look at for cheapening the review system; sometimes the customers use it to blackmail companies. Last year restaurants began reporting that customers were threatening to leave negative reviews on Yelp.com, a restaurant review site, if they weren't given deep discounts or free food!

In the end, no matter who's doing the dirty work, we all lose. Fake reviews, positive and negative, bring all of the ratings for a product or seller into question, which makes it nearly impossible to make informed decisions.

Thankfully you can always trust your friends to provide honest feedback, or at least you should be able to. If your circle of friends in the real world isn't big enough, you're sure to find plenty of real opinions from your followers on Twitter!


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