Some Amazon Reviewers Don’t Pay for the Stuff They Review

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Amazon organizes getting a bunch of free stuff for its top reviewers in exchange for their opinions about products. Does that affect how you look at the site's reviews?

We don’t always know where online reviews are coming from, and we know that some are fake.

But did you know that some super reviewers get sent free stuff in exchange for reviewing it? NPR’s Lisa Chow talked to the top reviewer on Amazon, Michael Erb, about that. Erb has relatively few reviews compared with some others at the top of the list — 868 compared with sometimes thousands. But his reviews have been ranked 96 percent helpful by consumers, and he currently holds the top slot.

Erb is part of Amazon’s elite reviewer club. “Erb is a member of Amazon Vine, an invitation-only program for the site’s top reviewers,” Chow says. Amazon sends him a list of items once a month or more, from which he picks a couple to review and keep, as long as he reviews them within a month. Through the program, he’s scored everything from cheap headphones to laser printers and spin bikes worth hundreds of dollars. He’s just not allowed to sell them, according to Chow.

Amazon’s justification for the program is to help consumers avoid biased reviews from customers who are upset about their experience more than the product — for instance, people who get their stuff late or have a bad interaction with the seller.

Do you suppose freebies skew reviews at all? Amazon apparently doesn’t. Amazon spokeswoman Julie Law told Chow those kind of reviews tend to have fewer stars on average.

The site’s policies also say it’s OK to review free stuff. Under guidelines for what is not allowed, Amazon lists “reviews written for any form of compensation other than a free copy of the product.” As long as there isn’t money involved, it seems, Amazon doesn’t care.

What do you think of Amazon’s Vine program? Comment below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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