Cuddly toy reviews being used to boost headphones on Amazon, says Which?

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Amazon sellers have been artificially boosting their products’ influential customer ratings by co-opting positive reviews of unrelated items, a leading consumer magazine has reported.

Which? said nine of the 10 highest-rated headphones on Amazon were carrying glowing reviews that were actually for products such as cuddly toys, jigsaw puzzles and umbrellas. They included two that carried the “Amazon’s choice” mark of approval.

Which? said the nine were little-known brands, while just one established mark – Bose, which was rated eighth – did not show any signs of review abuse.

“Unscrupulous businesses are exploiting weaknesses with Amazon’s review system, leaving shoppers at risk of buying products boosted by thousands of bogus five-star reviews,” said Rocio Concha, the director of policy and advocacy at Which?.

The magazine said its study found that the most highly rated headphones available, which had five stars and were marked “Amazon’s choice”, had 40 reviews, none of which referred to headphones.

“All of the reviews, including three reviews clearly showing photos of the product, were for ‘plushie’ toys – a ‘cute’ cuddly stuffed animal apparently loved by children and adults alike,” Which? reported.

The practice is referred to as merging reviews. Online sellers can legitimately adopt it to gather all reviews for closely related products – such as differing colours of the same model – in one place. But Which? reported that merging reviews for unrelated products was against Amazon’s terms and conditions.

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Which? said it “focused its investigation on just one popular product category, but has also seen the issue across other categories, including smartphone chargers with reviews for surge protectors, tweezers boosted by reviews for non-stick kitchen foil, and blackhead removing nose strips boosted by reviews for wigs”.

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Concha said: “Once again, this reinforces the importance of the CMA’s ongoing fake reviews investigation getting to the bottom of the issue and ensuring that major shopping sites are protecting people from these unfair practices.

“The government also announced its intention to tackle fake reviews as part of its consumer and competition reforms and should bring forward new laws, in the upcoming Queen’s speech, to banish these exploitative practices as soon as possible.”

An Amazon spokesperson told the BBC: “We have now taken appropriate enforcement action against the product listings and sellers in question.

“We have clear guardrails in place to prevent products from being incorrectly grouped, either due to human error or abuse.

“Our proactive measures detect and block the vast majority of abuse in our store automatically: however, we are disappointed when bad actors evade our system and we will continue to innovate and invest in our tools and processes.”

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