The companies that use Amazon's market place can take a serious loss if bad reviews of their products mount up. Amazon's customer review system is an integral part of the site, and many shoppers depend on it, even subconsciously, when choosing between various items. Now, reporters from the Journal have found that some sellers find success by paying off Amazon employees to delete those bad reviews, completely changing their standing among the countless products available.
Sources said that the quiet exchange of favors is most prevalent in China. Smaller business owners typically pay around $300 to get a bad review taken down. Others sometimes pay to get ahold of the reviewer's e-mail address, data that Amazon is not supposed to leak. This way, the vendor will contact the reviewer and try to placate them in exchange for getting the review removed.
There is reportedly a small network of brokers who manage these dealings, across the Chinese messaging service WeChat. The service is generally used to connect sellers with Amazon employees for help with their accounts. It can also be used to make payments, but it has been accused of doctoring or censoring political topics within China, where online communication is more closely monitored.
Amazon is reportedly conducting an internal investigation into the rampant bribery. The company's policies strictly prohibit the disclosure of customer information. In addition, Amazon relies on its review system, including both star ratings and written comments. The feature drives traffic and discussion on the site, and many savvy shoppers use it even if they plan on purchasing the product elsewhere.
"We've worked over the years to make our millions of customer reviews as useful as possible," reads Amazon's official page on customer reviews. "Customer Reviews are meant to give customers genuine product feedback from fellow shoppers. Our goal is to capture all the energy and enthusiasm (both favorable and critical) that customers have about a product while avoiding use of reviews to outright advertise, promote and especially mislead. We have a zero tolerance policy for any review designed to mislead or manipulate customers."
There is no word on which products have specifically been affected by review tampering, or whether they have been fixed. Amazon has yet to comment on the story publicly.