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Amazon’s Fake Product Reviews Phenomenon

Amazon is the world’s most popular shopping site with millions of products for sale. Many of these products are from Amazon or well-known brands, but there are also thousands of small sellers made up of small companies and even individuals running their own business from home.  When there are so many people from all over the world coming together on broadband internet in one online shopping portal, it’s a recipe for success and also an example of the quirkiness of the human race.

The varieties of products that are sold on Amazon are just as varied as all the people in the world. There is something for everyone and things available for sale that you never even imagined. One of the main features of Amazon is the ability for customers to leave feedback after they make a purchase. Not only is the feedback to rate the seller and ensure that the sellers are abiding by best practices, it is also a review of the products sold. Some customers take more time than others to rate a product that they purchase on Amazon, while some do not take the time to rate at all.

A strange phenomenon has arisen in the last few years with the review process. Some individuals seem to make a hobby out of rating and reviewing products, sometimes making up elaborate stories about these products just for a life. The evident abundance of extra time these people exhibit results in some funny reading. In some cases the products are just ridiculous and deserve crazy responses.

Some ridiculous products found on Amazon that are constantly being made fun of during the review process are: Wheelmate Laptop Steering Wheel  Desk, Tuscan Whole Milk for $48, UFO detectors, and my favorite: the Playmobile Security Checkpoint, complete with plane travelers and a TSA agent with security wand! These types of products obviously lend themselves to silly reviews. However when the silly reviews go viral because they are so funny, it likely leads to sales of these products. Even if the purchase is for a gag gift, a sale is a sale to a merchant.

As you can see, at the time of this screen shot, this review had 46 comments on it. The funny reviews attract a lot of attention and even if this product is silly and no one purchases it, Playmobile sells plenty of other non-silly toys and many people will look for other products sold by the same seller, and this one silly listing actually works as an advertisement for the brand.

After seeing the review of the Wheelmate Laptop Steering Wheel Desk (below) you will also notice the large amount of customer reviews and large number of likes. This is evident that this product is getting in front of the eyes of thousands more people than it would have had it not received so many silly reviews on Amazon. Everyone knows a bad driver or two that this would make a great gag gift for. It is a way that even useless items are sold on Amazon every day.

In some cases, a fad catches on and reviews are made about products that are not silly themselves, but the reported use of the product in the reviews makes it funny.  These incidents are similar to a viral video; you never know when a product will receive silly reviews. Even though the reviews might be silly, made up and even condescending, all of the publicity the product gets just adds to its allure and increases sales and exposure. Such is the case with The Mountain Three Wolf Moon Short Sleeve Tee.

As you can see from this image, this regular t-shirt has over 2.300 reviews and over 350 customer images uploaded to the listing. Many of the reviews also have a large number of comments and this shirt is one of the most popular items on Amazon.  According to Wikipedia, (yes, even Wikipedia has an entry about the wolf t-shirt reviews) the t-shirt is manufactured by The Mountain Corporation and their art director, Michael McGloin, said that they were making many more shirts in response to the great demand which had made it the top selling item in Amazon’s clothing store.

Not all cases of viral Amazon reviews does it end so well for the product or the brand. Take BIC, for example. They launched a line of “Pens for Her” a while ago and late last year, the Internet took notice, and women flocked to Amazon to launch sarcastic, feminist reviews of the new line of pens that were made in pastel colors and with extra cushioned grips. There is a fine line between targeting an audience and patronizing it, and women took offense to something as benign as frilly looking pens, launching what became a full social media assault on the brand.

It is unknown how all of these reviews and attention impacted the sales, but losing control of a brand in social media is not a good thing and lessons can and should be learned from this incident, which all started with a silly little Amazon review.

For product consultants, brand managers, and social media marketers, there is a lesson here. Although it is impossible to predict viral and social media success, there are things that can and should be done to protect the brand in the event of a social emergency. The best “problem” to have is trying to keep up with product demand over a viral incident. Having to clean up a social media nightmare is not a good problem to have.

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