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Fake reviews 'twice as likely' to dupe shoppers into buying poor-quality products

Online shopping has become crucial for some during the coronavirus pandemic. (Getty)

Online shoppers, including Amazon (AMZN) users, could be more than twice as likely to choose poor-quality products if they are accompanied by fake reviews and inflated star ratings, an experiment by consumer group Which? found. 

Which? asked almost 10,000 people to complete a shopping task using images designed to look like the Amazon website.

The research simulated fake reviews and endorsement labels and found they were very effective at convincing consumers into picking products that Which? has labelled as ‘Don’t buy’ because they are of extremely poor quality.

Of the group given items that contained no fake reviews, one in 10 people (10.5%) opted for a ‘Don’t buy’ product. But for those presented with fake review text and inflated ratings, the number more than doubled, with 23% going for a ‘Don’t buy’ product.

With a platform endorsement label added, the number of people choosing the poor quality items increased to 25%, a 136% increase compared with the group that was not exposed to any fake reviews.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Regulator investigates misleading online reviews

Which? warned that the ‘Amazon’s Choice’ endorsement label was being applied to potentially poor quality products that appeared to have been artificially boosted by fake reviews. 

Amazon told Which? in a statement that it wants “customers to shop with confidence knowing that the reviews they read are authentic and relevant.”

“We have clear policies for both reviewers and selling partners that prohibit abuse of our community features, and we suspend, ban, and take legal action against those who violate these policies.”

The consumer group explained it chose Amazon as it is the UK’s largest online shopping platform but believes its findings are applicable to other online platforms that have user-generated reviews.

It said fake star ratings and reviews are “tactics commonly used by unscrupulous sellers”, adding that its investigations have uncovered evidence of fake or misleading reviews on platforms including eBay, TripAdvisor and Facebook, although they have taken some action since. 

As online shopping has become increasingly vital during the coronavirus lockdown, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has said it will examine how sites currently detect and respond to fake reviews.

“This overwhelming evidence of the damaging impact of fake reviews on consumers reinforces the need for the CMA’s recently announced investigation into misleading online reviews and why the regulator must take the strongest possible action against sites that fail to tackle this problem,” Which? said in a statement. 

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The CMA has estimated that £23bn ($28bn) a year of consumer transactions are influenced by online reviews.

Meanwhile, a Royal Mail survey found 45% of UK adults have been receiving more deliveries since lockdown measures began on 23 March, with products such as home decor, garden supplies and DIY equipment the most ordered.

Home entertainment, fashion, and health and beauty items were also popular, while more unusual items included hot tubs, casino kits, unicorn pinatas, wrestling boots, Venus flytraps and a full replica model of Flying Scotsman, the train.