Amazon is risking the trust of its customers by failing to address alleged issues with its Amazon’s Choice product badge, Which? has said.
The consumer group said its investigation found a number of products used incentivised and fake reviews to boost their ratings to receive the badge on a listing.
Which? said the recommendation system could be “easily gamed” and warned this is a risk to consumers as many regard the badge as proof a product has been quality checked by the online store.
The consumer group has called on Amazon to make it clearer how the Choice system works. It is influenced by customer reviews, price and whether a product is available to dispatch immediately.
Which? said its research found that 44% of Amazon customers who were aware of the badge believed it was a sign that a product had been quality checked by Amazon.
The consumer group said it analysed nearly 200 products across five categories on Amazon’s UK website and found evidence of suspicious reviews, including evidence of incentivisation – where sellers offer free products or refunds in return for positive reviews.
It also saw instances of product merging, where old or now unavailable product pages are merged with new listings to gain positive reviews for the new products and increase their prominence on the site
Which? said these practices were used to artificially boost the prominence of unfamiliar brands, which its research said in many cases did not have a website.
Natalie Hitchins, Which? head of home products and services, said: “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.
“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.
“This is yet further evidence that the Consumer and Markets Authority (CMA) needs to investigate how fake reviews are being used to manipulate online shoppers. It must take the strongest possible action against sites that fail to tackle this problem.”
An Amazon spokesman said: “Amazon’s Choice seeks to help customers by making it easy to select items in our store. When browsing our store, customers may see a product highlighted as ‘Amazon’s Choice’ for their specific shopping request.
“Amazon’s Choice highlights highly rated, well-priced products that are available to ship immediately. 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.
“We know that customer trust is hard to earn and easy to lose, so we strive to protect customer trust in products Amazon’s Choice highlights. 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.”