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Fake reviews make it hard to buy online. RIT professors are trying to fix that

CITY Magazine
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When you look at those reviews for a product you may be considering purchasing on Amazon, can you trust them?

That’s a question addressed by recent research co-authored with two faculty members at RIT’s Saunders College of Business and other experts.

Gijs Overgoor and Ali Tosyali are assistant professors in the Department of MIS, Marketing, and Analytics at RIT.

He said that if you are looking at reviews of a product on Amazon, try not to limit yourself to just those reviews.

“It might make sense also to utilize some external sources,” said Overgoor. “What are some websites that maybe provide some comparisons between products, and do a little bit of extra research rather than relying just on the five star reviews, or the review rating, if you will, of a single product on Amazon."

Overgoor also cautioned about just focusing on five-star reviews on Amazon. He said that often companies who solicit fake reviews will put out a cluster of those five-star reviews.

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The RIT professor said you’d be better off taking a closer look at product reviews that got one to four stars.

Overgoor noted that Amazon has said it has thousands of employees who look for fraud on its site.

But he said that one way companies who are soliciting fake reviews try to get around that is by advertising their products on Facebook.

Overgoor said these companies will then offer incentives to the people doing the fake reviews.

“And they even vet this review in certain ways to make sure it’s authentic looking. And then after that, (they tell the fake reviewers), ‘We will reimburse you the product and we might even give you a little bit of a fee on top of that.’ And so they really circumvent the algorithm and the policies that Amazon puts in place to prevent these reviews to reach the platform,” said Overgoor.

The two RIT professors became involved in the research after Tosyali’s personal experience purchasing a vitamin on Amazon. “The product I purchased had many reviews—approximately 5,000—with an average rating of 4.9,” Tosyali recalled. “After using it, I observed some side effects and returned the product.”

Tosyali said that after returning the product, he looked at the reviews more closely and saw many negative comments, which referenced the side effects he experienced.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.