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Amazon failing to stem 'flood' of fake reviews - Which?

Chris Radburn/PA Wire

By Josie Clarke, PA Consumer Correspondent

Amazon is failing to stem a "flood" of suspicious and fake reviews on its marketplace that risk misleading millions of customers, according to consumer group Which?

The watchdog studied a selection of devices made and sold by relatively unknown Chinese brands, all of which had "exceptionally high" ratings on Amazon, and in some cases even the coveted "Amazon's Choice" endorsement.

Eight products were tested independently and three performed so badly they were rated as "Don't Buys" - low-scoring items Which? advises consumers to avoid.

Almost all of the products - headphones, vacuum cleaners, dash cams and Bluetooth speakers - fell short of the average Which? score for product performance in their respective categories.

A set of headphones sold under the Yineme brand showed signs of suspicious review activity, Which? said, including unusually high numbers of positive reviews, high review frequency, repetition of phrases and photos and videos often uploaded alongside reviews.

The headphones had a high overall rating of 4.4 out of 5 from more than 800 reviews and an "Amazon's Choice" badge.

In contrast, Which? tests gave the product a "Don't Buy" warning, with a score of just 37%.

The tests revealed the sound to be "exceptionally poor" with noise-cancelling rendered worthless by the poor quality.

Shortly after Which? reported these headphones to Amazon, the product was made "currently unavailable". Amazon has also deleted customer reviews from this product.

The Onson Cordless Vacuum also showed signs of suspicious reviews, scoring an average of 4.4 on Amazon and again had the "Amazon's Choice" recommendation.

In testing it turned out to be one of Which?'s lowest-scoring cordless vacuums ever - scoring just 32%.

Which? experts found it difficult to use and unhygienic to empty, and it scored just one star for cleaning on carpets, floorboards and laminate flooring. It was also poor at removing pet hair.

A pair of Enacfire Future Plus Headphones had a score of 4.9 out of 5 from a large number of reviews, the vast majority of which were five-star, while reviews had almost tripled in three months.

It has now amassed more than 1,000 customer reviews on Amazon, and more than five times as many five-star reviews per day on average than Apple's market-leading Airpods.

Which? testing gave them a score of 39% and a Don't Buy warning.

Which? said it remained concerned that Amazon was failing to take strong action to stop fake reviews.

Online reviews influence an estimated £23 billion of transactions a year in the UK alone, according to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

Natalie Hitchins, Which? head of home products and services, said: "Customer reviews should be a helpful resource for shoppers choosing what to buy and billions of pounds are spent every year based on this feedback, so it's vital that Amazon takes stronger action to ensure people can trust the information they see online and aren't duped into buying poor quality products.

"There appears to be no sense of urgency from the industry to tackle this problem so it's down to the regulator to make that happen. We urge the regulator to investigate how fake reviews are used to manipulate consumers, and to crack down on sites that fail to take appropriate action to combat this."

An Amazon spokesman said: "Amazon is relentless in our efforts to protect the integrity of reviews. Any attempt to manipulate customer reviews is strictly prohibited and in the last year alone, we've spent over 400 million dollars (£308 million) to protect customers from reviews abuse, fraud, and other forms of misconduct."