Amazon targets the 'flikers'

Stuart Fuller

Global e-tailing giant Amazon has taken a step towards reducing the number of misleading or fake reviews on its website (a practice referred to as ‘fliking’) by placing a limit on the number of reviews an individual can leave. Although the limit is not enforced for buyers of products from the site, individuals can now only leave five reviews for items they have not bought.

This is the latest attempt by Amazon to clamp down on a number of illegal and unethical practices and at the same time restore trust in what is one of the most influential brands in the online revolution. Earlier this year, Amazon began taking action against individuals who had offered their services as ‘positive reviewers’ in exchange for payment. Many of these reviewers used to advertise their wares.

As Amazon uses a ranking system for many of its product listings, the more positive the reviews an item has, the higher up in the rankings it will be − and thus the more likely to grab a buyer’s attention. So, there’s a real interest and demand for positive reviews. The Sunday Times exposed the practice of fliking in an article back in October 2015, where it had pushed an e-book to the top of the bestseller charts − spelling and grammatical mistakes deliberately left in − simply due to the number of positive reviews it managed to buy.

Another area that Amazon is cracking down on is the practice of offering reviews in exchange for free or discounted products; one of the ways sellers have circumnavigated the rules around acquiring positive feedback. In future, only users of the Amazon Vine program will be able to submit reviews in return for products.

The Amazon Vine program has actually been in place since 2007, and is a paid service that companies can subscribe to. Amazon has a group of trusted reviewers, known as ‘Vine Voices’, who are sent items from the subscribed companies to objectively review. The reviewers are bound by conditions as to what they can then do with the products they have received.

These new measures against misleading and clearly fake reviews will certainly help Amazon in the war against counterfeiters who look to sell inferior goods on the website. However, there is an ongoing battle in stopping counterfeiters listing their products for sale on the site in the first place, which is a challenge that faces all online marketplaces. For now, restricting the practice of fliking is a good starting point, and one that should benefit both consumers and sellers in building trust.