The Downvoting Game on Amazon Reviews

Screenshot of downvotes on Amazon

I have been helping out other Amazon reviewers over the past few years, and have heard (and read) the grumblings of the downvoting game being played, possibly by other high ranking reviewers. As of the past few months, it has seemed to have gone into overdrive.

Are top reviewers downvoting others’ reviews?

I have a reviewer in the UK that has getting pummeled by downvotes on his reviews, especially ones that are reviews for products that he was sent in exchange for a review. His assumption is other top reviewers down voting him to give them an edge.

I too have found that once I broke the 2,000 mark in the rankings that my reviews-in-exchange suddenly have more downvotes than positive. And almost always within a week of posting, then after that no more downvotes. Reviews that are organic (from items I bought) are almost never down-voted, and certainly not 100% down-voted like the others.

“Dear Rival Reviewers…”

The reviewer in the UK told me a couple disturbing things just now: one is that a reviewer has felt the need to resort to starting reviews with the following:

“TO THE RIVAL REVIEWERS WHO KEEP VOTING ME DOWN Please stop strategically giving my reviews unhelpful votes just so that you can get ahead. You’re creating an environment where those of us who want to play nicely, feel obliged to take part in this unsportsmanlike nonsense just to stay afloat.” Source

You can buy downvotes for $5?!

Even crazier, he also mentioned that you can buy Amazon up/down votes in bulk on Fiverr, as seen here.

Fiverr screenshot

Screenshot of tasks you can buy on Fiverr to up- or downvote reviews on Amazon in bulk.

What this means is that someone (another reviewer or even a rival company) can buy up or down votes through Fiverr to artificially inflate or deflate the value of the reviews. Why would someone do this?

  • a rival ‘top reviewer’ might do this to keep other reviewers from upward movement in the rankings by making their reviews get more downvotes than upvotes
  • an up-and-comer reviewer might do this to bring down the top reviewers making it easier to move up in the rankings
  • a rival company might do this to make the reviews for the products look shady or untrustworthy

What can we do about this?

First, we as honest reviewers can just not play the game. It is NOT okay to pay someone to downvote reviews for any reason.

Second, we can start to have more conversations about this. Getting it out into the open will hopefully put pressure on this type of behavior to stop. When real Amazon customers start talking about it, maybe then Amazon will start to listen and take action on it. (Word is they already monitor IP addresses to combat this kind of behavior, but Fiverr people just rotate through hundreds of fake accounts and IPs for each downvote.)

I think the biggest thing we can do is to start putting pressure on the companies sourcing and tracking reviews for companies. Many of you have signed up for and work with companies that email you a list of products to review. They work for the sellers on Amazon and they also have access to hundreds, if not thousands of reviewers—many of them top reviewers. If we can bring it to their attention and ask them to reach out to their reviewers and state that this kind of practice is no longer being played in the dark and not condoned, I think we could put a dent in this kind of game.

The real solution would be for Amazon to drop the up-/downvoting altogether since it lends little credence these days with the rise of parody reviews and the fact that one can buy 60 upvotes for only $5.

What do you think?

What do you think about this practice of downvoting? Got any ideas on how we can combat it? Post your comments below to get the conversation started. Thanks!

22 Comments

Lynn

Down voting is so silly & too EASY! I started writing reviews by accident and loved it. I try to put a lot of thought and effort into my reviews. I turn down any that seem shady and any that I think will be less than 4 stars. Needless to say I turn down offers daily at this point. When I was starting out I followed Tristan’s advice & I was off & running watching my reviewer ranking drop it was quite a shock to me when I looked and my # jumped by the thousands when I suddenly had 3 down votes in 1 day. I can’t imagine the people that have trolls constantly down voting. How frustrating.
I am almost a top 1,000 reviewer now but keep in mind California has a bigger population than Canada.
If they must keep the down vote I wish they had to say why it was unhelpful. It would help reviews become more helpful and it would make it difficult to do on a large scale to sabotage others. I also wonder how many people have down voted by accident just scrolling or falling asleep.

Reply
Tristan

If they must keep the down vote I wish they had to say why it was unhelpful. It would help reviews become more helpful and it would make it difficult to do on a large scale to sabotage others.

That’s a great idea! I too think they should have to state why it was unhelpful. It would definitely slow down the downvoting game. Amazon’s algorithm could look to match keywords since the reason should include at least a few of the same keywords, right?

Reply
smlwoman

Oh, and perhaps to keep it from being a drama fest, maybe only allow a certain amount of text to explain why. Something simple like “They think the review is biased because it was gotten at a discount” , or “they think the reviewer needs to add detail about how the item works.” or ” Giving measurements on your item helped me to understand why it runs small.” Ebay limits your text when making a complaint. perhaps that would help.?

Reply
smlwoman

I think it is also a great idea! They could do it for both upvotes and down votes! Then people won’t be so quick to just bully you. I recently started doing discounted review items after ten years of doing reviews on Amazon that I bought at whatever price was there. I started to see some negative comments when I was searching for an answer to a question on Amazon about people who review items after getting them at a discount and have the disclaimer on the review. So I made the mistake of asking sincerely if all shoppers felt this way about reviews done on items we receive. I got a small handful of helpful responses. And yes, the average shopper said, that they would go to buy something and notice the disclaimer so they would continue to look at the reviews and found that the next 10 reviews had the same type of disclaimer so they would go and look at the negative reviews and they didn’t have any disclaimers and decided not to buy the product because they didn’t believe the positive reviews since the all got the product for free or discounted. But there were hundreds of people that were down right bullying in responses to name calling, mocking, threatening, and dancing the happy dance saying that if my reviews weren’t deleted yet they would all be wiped soon. Amazon did an update on the rankings, and I am no where near a top reviewer. I am still in the hundred thousands, but was going down at a steady pace. All of a sudden I jumped up 3,000 points. So I started to research and found that I had gotten several not helpful votes on any of my reviews that had the disclaimer. They all think we are liars even though my videos and pics backed up what I say in my reviews. I was so angry. They didn’t even read the reviews nor were they considering buying the item, they just went and pushed not helpful. I researched even farther and found out that the people who responded in the post were all top 500 reviewers. All the nasty ones were from top reviewers. Are they really that threatened by us? I had to slow down my reviews because I felt that I brought attention to my account and they were just going to keep down voting me for the simple reason they think that we are being bought even though it clearly states that we are allowed to do this in Amazons TOS. None of them quote that rule, they all only quote the no buying reviews rules. Do they get something for being a top reviewer? oh, and they are all reviewers of free ebooks. So they are technically doing the same thing. So I think we should all send emails to Amazon asking them to add this to the voting. I like to know if my amazon review is helpful and knowing why or why not would be good to know to make reviews more helpful. And then it would also help amazon to see if people are down voting because they think we are being bought. It may bring more drama now that I think about it. But there has to be something done. I am a careful reviewer and I don’t like adults acting like high schoolers. I take my reviews seriously and follow the rules. I pass on any reviews that seem like they break any rules of Amazon’s TOS and it is frustrating to see others ruin it.

Reply
Techdaduk

I made it to top 1200 in the UK and then all of a sudden I start falling and have ended up at 3.5k even though I’m still getting helpful votes, it seems the unhelpful ones count for twice as much position wise. It’s a joke that people are so threatened by other reviewers and Hypocrisy at its finest. They down vote because the product was provided for free or discounted but they still willingly accept them for themselves.
Amazon need to get rid of the voting up and down system and maybe just do a points system of some kind per review made where only Amazon can give points based on the reviews?
Take it out of the greedy childish top reviewers hands.

Reply
Arn

Hi Tristan,

Thanks for posting all your informative articles! I was just contacted for the first time to receive a free product in exchange for review by an Amazon seller. My questions to you is, do you have these products all delivered to your home address or did you set up a PO box for delivery? My concern here would be giving out my home address to many sellers, some of which I may post a poor review for (if the product is no good). Could you offer any advice here about shipping and/or personal security?

Thanks!
-Arn

Reply
Tristan

I understand your concern. I too had that very same concern. The thing is that (from what I hear) the seller can get address info from their Seller Central dashboard. So, whether you order via Amazon or have them send it to you directly your address is not private. **I will work on conforming this with a screenshot from an actual seller soon!

If your address is something you want to remain private, I recommend you use a service that proxies for you. P.O. Boxes are not always an option since UPS does NOT ship to them. You may want to look up mailing services in your area that receive your mail for pickup and delivery.

After doing this for over 200 items, I think sending them to your home address is fine. Should I experience an issue, I may change my mind later. But, for now it works fine.

Reply
Lynn

Ugh a couple nights ago my daughter hit my screen and down voted a completely helpful review. Yep one tap from a 6 month old. That’s WAY too easy. I’m sure it’s been mentioned many times before but there really needs to be a confirmation to submit votes to prevent accidentally voting and make people think twice too. I went back a screen then voted it helpful but I don’t know it it helped.

Reply
Tristan

I once accidentally did that same thing. Felt bad, too. Would be nice if our Profiles would list everything we up/down voted so we could go back to it later and remove or change it.

Better yet, as others have said before me: get rid of the down vote altogether. It’s got way too many problems.

Reply
Stacey

I agree this is absolutely FOOLISH! It’s something that others are only doing to get themselves at the top as “most helpful” or sellers are doing for their product they don’t care about what it’s doing to the persons ranking that they are down voting! Each item that I’ve had down voted was one that my review has included a ton of info, I was so very detailed, added tons of pictures I had a bunch of helpful votes then suddenly ohh there comes the down votes. It’s nuts! Brought my helpful percent from 98% to 91% Such a crappy game that I want NO part of!

Reply
Jeff

I think maybe you are glossing over the fact that there are many, typical, shoppers who find the idea of “pre-emptive reviewing” repulsive. I applaud the reviewers who genuinely desired a product and reviewed it to express their satisfaction (or dissatisfaction). However there are others, myself included, who grow wary of products when seeing the top 5-10 reviews were all prompted by promotional offers in exchange for honest reviews. Honest reviews will come with honest selling. If a product requires to be given away to a group of consumers in order to gain “honest” reviews – then the whole process is called into question. I vehemently disagree with the notion of removing the up-voting/down-voting system from reviews. Frankly, it’s that system that prevents many “professional reviewers” from completely undermining the review process with sponsored, “honest”, reviews.

Now – anyone purposely “down voting” reviews to maintain their own status is just acting childishly. However – realize that Amazon (and others) created this game and this site has many articles on how to play it well. Certainly a few of the exploiters might have honed their trade through your posts and others like it.

Maybe the discussion should shift from “how to play the game” and more towards “why are we playing in the first place?”

Reply
Tristan

I agree: regular Amazon shoppers probably take it hard that the review is being written by a person that got this thing for free whereas they have to pay for it. I’ll chalk up a small percentage will down vote my review because of it.

“Honest reviews will come with honest selling.” Agree, but know that only 2-5% of buyers will come back and review a product (source). And reviews drive product sales. So, to get a handful of reviews, say 5, the Seller has to sell about 100-200 units. This is a chicken and the egg problem: you need reviews to make sales, buy you need sales to get reviews. It is near impossible to sell that many when you have no reviews. So, seeding the reviews with ‘unbiased, honest reviews’ is often the game they have to play in order to sell on Amazon.

Think about it: when was the last time you bought something on Amazon that had zero reviews? I’ve asked numerous people this question over the years, and they ALL answer “never”.

“this site has many articles on how to play it well”
Are you implying that I am teaching people how to play the game? That is certainly not my intent. In fact, the opposite. My goal is to educate people about what is going on so we can band together and fight it. If I am not to report on it lest someone finds out how to do it, then we should not report on any crimes or wrongdoings to save readers from learning how to do it too.

This site’s goal is to educate people on how to become legitimate and honest reviewers for Sellers on Amazon and other marketplaces. I also want to expose any games and wrongdoings by other reviewers/sellers so we fight back and keep the process of reviewing products on the up and up.

I like your suggestion about “why are we playing in the first place?”, and will try and answer it in a post in the future. Thanks for the suggestion.

Reply
Jeff

Thanks for the reply. I agree with you, it’s a chicken and the egg problem with reviews. I wonder if maybe eBay has it right. Review the seller – not necessarily the product. I’m not sure…

However, I do think you are turning a blind eye to your site’s contribution to the game. I read your “About” section and the title of your articles and feel like maybe the emphasis is more on “getting stuff” than it is on “reviewing stuff”. It’s that sentiment that might cause me and others to wield the “downvote” when we see promotional reviews.

Appreciate the dialog.

Reply
Tristan

Rating Sellers is valuable, but it’s the product people are buying. I want to know if the product really does what it claims. I want to know of anything others found out about it that is not listed. I want to know if the product is worth the price.

When we have 1,723,261 results come back for “iPhone 6 charger”, I need some help deciding which is the best value. When most people feel the marketing copy is just trying to confuse us or gloss over the shortcomings, we look to peer reviews to help sort it all out. Word of mouth is more effective and trusted than whatever the company says, and reviews help cut through the clutter.

As reviewers that get free/discounted items, we have a duty to ensure that what we are writing helps our peers make an informed decision, NOT just regurgitate the marketing copy (as some do) or do a half-assed job of it. People are spending their money on this stuff, and we are playing a part in that decision.

And yes, the titles are written for those that have heard about Sellers sending out free or discounted products and want more information. I wrote the title the way they search for it in Google. The emphasis is purely theirs, and I am capitalizing on it to get the organic traffic. That is true.

I will work on the body copy to stress the positive aspects of this hobby/game. I’m hoping people Google it, find my blog, and then learn that they should take the higher ground and do the right thing by writing honest reviews as if they bought it.

On that note, more and more Sellers are charging at least a dollar or more. Even though it is a dollar, I do believe that it puts the Seller in the mindset that they bought it, and I feel they review it more unbiased and honestly.

Reply
Azon Seller

Good article. I’ve read several others, and while there are many great points being discussed, there’s one very pertinent fact that seems to be overlooked:

Your downvoters are not just other voters. It’s from sellers.

Sure, maybe some highly-ranked reviewer may downvote to be petty. But the big downvoting – the bulk stuff – that’s coming from other Amazon sellers. It’s worth it to them to pay for upvotes/downvotes.

I know – I am an Amazon seller. And I’ve never bought an upvote or downvote (or a review, for that matter), but I’ve been on the receiving end of this game, and it sucks. It can look a couple ways:

You (Amazon reviewer) leave a positive, helpful review, that the product owner likes. They buy a bunch of upvotes. Yay, your cred goes up, the owner makes more sells, and if you left an honest review (which you probably did), the consumer wins.

Or, You (Amazon reviewer) leaves a negative review. It’s also helpful to the consumer, but the product owner doesn’t like it. So they buy downvotes. Boo, the product owner wins, but the consumer and you (the reviewer) loses.

And then it gets trickier with dirty competitors. They buy a competing product, leave a bad review, then buy upvotes. Then, they find the best reviews, and buy downvotes. Competitor = toast. All of the sudden, a competitive threat has been banished to trying to work with the “amazon review team”, where it’s impossible to talk to people on the phone, plus you lose all your ranking. Competitor laughs all the way to the bank, consumer gets hosed, and honest seller has to start over with the listing. Wah wah.

Or, a competitor just finds an honest, negative review on a competitors listing, and buys a bunch of upvotes. Then, buys a bunch of downvotes for the positives.

Many times, the reviewer is just getting caught in the crossfire of a game between sellers. I’ve had this done to me with roughly 30% of all the products I sell on Amazon – fake complaints, fake neg reviews, fake claims of knockoff or copyright, etc etc etc. I like playing fair – it’s America, let’s compete based off pricing, value, style, marketing, and may the best seller win. However, too many sellers are willing to cut any corner, and then it turns into the equivalent of doping in pro sports: if literally EVERYONE is doing it, then your reward for playing by the rules is perpetual disadvantage. Instead of growing a business, you’re managing fake reviews and fake complaints. Yeah, you’re competing against other sellers (kinda), but in all the wrong categories, and the ultimate loser is the consumer.

What’s the solve? IMHO:

Validate feedback. You think the product sucks? Why? Provide some proof, make the person validate their claim. Pictures, vids, SHOW that the product sucks. Or show that it’s awesome – either way, require more from reviewers than anonymously hitting a few buttons.

Three review sections: discounted reviews, helpful/unhelpful, and full-price reviews. Not dissimilar from the way a gmail inbox is set up (commercial, non-commercial, etc), three sections so you can get a feel on the two types of purchasers.

Double-opt your voting system, requiring validation. Why was the review helpful? Why was it unhelpful? Again, make the person do something more than click a button. Yes, you get MORE feedback when leaving feedback is easy, but it’s a question of quality feedback, not just quantity feedback. The easier the system is to use, the easier it is to game. Algorithms are not the solve, a superior structure is the solve.

Empower account reps. For merchants over sales volume X, assign an account rep that can cultivate a relationship with the seller that are empowered to solve problems across the board – feedback issues, inventory issues, etc. A liaison that understands the decision makers within the Amazon structure and can get things done.

This type of structure would clean up the shyte, create more transparency, level the playing field, and lower cost to Amazon, which would lower costs to merchants, which would lower costs to customers. Right now, their Pakistani/Philippine reps that are “trying” to help $100k/mo sellers and are near-clueless and completely disempowered from all but the most basic problem-solving actions within Amazon. Yeah it’s cheaper per hour, but SO many more hours that merchants are spending trying to get basic problems solved, versus growing a business. And growing a business on Amazon means Amazon becomes more competitive, more trusted, and bigger. Win/win.

Just my 2 cents.

Scott

I kind of agree with the note above regarding downvotes requiring some kind of justification, but that may have a lot of unintended consequences. Part of Amazon’s success is the ease of finding products to buy, and the readily available review process. Adding requirements means fewer people will be inclined to participate, but those who decline are more likely to be honest voters – and those are the ones you want to keep. Vengeful and paid voters will continue unabated.

I’d like to point out that sellers have a similar problem with reviewers themselves at times. I am an educational author; when I get a negative review, I *need* to know why so I can consider how to offer better materials in the future. Amazon currently does not have an effective process for getting useless or undeserved negative reviews removed. Even my publisher gave up appealing negative reviews that are about the wrong product, or are shots taken for completely inappropriate reasons. However, the one time I reported a 5-star review as being nonsense, that was removed within half a day.

The review system needs some thought put into revamping it, top to bottom. Parody reviews are fun, but have obvious drawbacks, including masking otherwise good competitor products, or hiding actually useful information.

Reply
Bjørk

Thanks for making a post about this.

I find the rating system on Amazon so unfair. And the up and down votes is in my humble opinion,BS as some authors have tons of followers they ask to up and down vote as they like. This gives a fake picture of the reviews and the reviewer.

Reply
Armin

You focus on reviewers using downvoting to climb higher in rank.

Downvoting is also offered as a (payed) service by advertising agencies. Usually those guys are hired to do to do “image polishng” by manufacturers und sellers. By downvoting negative reviews and comments they push them down the list of reviews out of sight and into nirvana, this may help to continue selling poor products.

Reply
Matt F

I just wrote two reviews of a product which did not match the description or the image. Needless to say it was not a favourable review. Within an hour both of my reviews received an unhelpful vote and upon closer inspection anyone who has given a negative review of this sellers items has received one unhelpful vote. I therefore assume that the seller is giving the downvote or is asking someone they know to give the downvote. It’s highly suspicious that both reviews received the downvote at the same time, on the same day minutes after being published and anyone else who left this seller a negative vote has received one.

I spent quite a while doing my reviews and i’m always honest. I wont ever give a bad review unless the item really deserved it and I would hope that people would want to know that I received bad products that don’t match the description or the image yet i’m left with down-votes. It makes me not want to bother with Amazon at all because one of the reasons I like to shop on Amazon is the reviews.

I think they should drop the helpful/unhelpful votes entirely.

Reply
Z

Yeah the soulution is dropping helpful voting entirely, but that’s not going to happen because people absolutely love their internet points, otherwise parody reviews wouldn’t exist. Also those internet points gets retention for new genuine reviewers because they may get some enjoyment from the process.

I think the solution is to pull anonymity, if you vote then you profile is hyperlinked as “name found this review (not) helpful on a more details page. I also feel patronizing paying customers is important, if a review is marked as “verified purchase” then not helpful voting should be disabled, if the review isn’t helpful then it would have to be reported as such. Verified purchased reviews should have a search filter as well to hopefully ween out the parody, fandom, hater and shill reviews.

Reply
P.J. Nguyen

I’ve been reviewing products that I buy for some years now, I think I’m getting better every time I write one. Up until recently I’ve maintained a 100% helpful votes, mind you I don’t have that many reviews, but since two reviews for free products I was down voted to 83%. I don’t think it’s a coincidence, perhaps people don’t believe the review is without bias, even though our disclaimer says so. I did my best in terms of writing a thorough review, making my case for the product. I think my mistake is being a little too generous with the Stars, I’d like to give half stars with a choice of rounding it off up/down on the ratings. Am I overthinking as a reviewer?

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *