Ever see a product labelled “Amazon’s Choice” while online shopping? Turns out, that badge might not mean much at all.
According to Amazon, the label is automatically given to products based on an algorithm—allegedly taking into account positive reviews and price, but reviews aren’t always that reliable, after all.
They can be easily manipulated or faked. Because this label is based on an algorithm, rather than Amazon examining a product for themselves, quality control is hardly a guarantee.
Here’s how this played out with one product labelled as Amazon’s Choice, as Buzzfeed News reported this week:
Amazon customer R.D. left a one-star review of the faulty pet hair vacuum, but after she received a refund, the review was taken down without her consent. She contacted Amazon to report it, then attempted to republish the negative review. Amazon did not follow up, and her second review was never approved. “The vacuum still has great reviews and is listed as Amazon’s Choice. This whole incident deeply perturbed me,” she said.
In other words, it turns out some of Amazon’s Choices are kind of crappy.
In reviewing a few dozen items for sale by Amazon, Buzzfeed News took a look at a child’s thermometer, a flask, a breathalyzer, and a dog collar, all of which either had serious quality issues, manipulated reviews or reviews for other, totally unrelated products in its listing which may have been an accident. (A Macbook Pro charger listing had reviews for pistachios and a sewing machine, while the dog collar had several reviews for RuPaul’s Drag Race.)
Similarly, Amazon’s recommendations are particularly problematic when you find products with only a few reviews. Here’s a listing for a recommended gaming monitor:
There are 15 reviews in total, with two of them considered ‘critical’ or bad.
When you dig a little deeper, seven of those 13 positive reviews were written by participants in Amazon’s Vine program—customers who have been “vetted” by Amazon and received this console for free (albeit taxable as income for Vine participants).
This doesn’t necessarily mean that these reviews aren’t reliable, but there are pretty obvious questions of bias at play. And again, this product has only 15 reviews, a noticeably small number to have acquired Amazon’s so-called stamp of approval. Strangely, there are also two versions of the listing above—one with the badge and one without (though they’re virtually identical otherwise).
“We launched Amazon’s Choice in 2015 as a way to simplify shopping for customers by highlighting highly rated, well-priced products ready to ship immediately for the most popular searches on Amazon,” the company said in a statement to Buzzfeed News, stating that it does remove the label if the company determines that the recommendation should not be made.
So what to do instead of depending on the “Amazon’s Choice” label? As we’ve written before, cast a critical eye on the reviews: if a reviewer has a wildly different experience than other reviewers or there are a ton of positive (or negative) reviews with a single sentence comment, then it’s worth reconsidering buying the product. And look for verified purchases from users, so there’s a better chance they’re legit reviews.
Reddit is another good resource; try doing an online search for a product you’re on the hunt for using Reddit and you should get a good sense of an item’s actual quality and reliability.