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How Chinese sellers trick you with pictures, ratings and reviews

10/13/2020 • Reading time: ca. 4 min • by Trutz Fries

To place new products on the German market, Chinese sellers often take various shortcuts. With the help of some examples, we will show you exactly how the sellers proceed.

Artificial formation of star ratings

Reviews play an important role when it comes to the sale of products. As a rule, the more reviews, the higher the number of sales. Chinese sellers in particular are happy to help in this regard to give a product more credibility.

A look at the new releases of Amazon is often enough to find products that have been assisted by sellers with reviews. New products usually have only a few reviews, therefore products with a lot of reviews are easily spotted.

Amazon new releases on amazon.com
Figure 1: Amazon new releases on amazon.com

The shown competitors on position 5 and 7 immediately catch your eye. Almost 600 star ratings for a new product? Kudos! Let's take a closer look at the product in 5th place.

Amazon product with many reviews
Figure 2: Amazon product with many reviews

According to the product detail page, this product is available since September 20. Two weeks later, this product already has 570 reviews? Hardly. There was some help involved. You can also see that when you look at the ratio of reviews with text to the ratio of ratings overall.

If you look at the course of the reviews, you can see that the first reviews are all unverified, consistently positive and all were given in a short time.

Unverified Fake Reviews
Figure 3: Unverified Fake Reviews

Looking at the profiles of the people who praise the product, you will find the Profile of Chris, who has written almost 100 reviews in the last 6 months. All with 5 stars. Chris is probably lucky, since every "purchase" seems to be a hit. And Chris is diligent. Every 2-3 days Chris publishes a review. Chris must have a lot of money.

Or did Chris not buy the products at all? Does Chris get the products as a gift or even money for his reviews? We don't know, but it looks strange and these black-hat tactics are not unusual. A quick look at a few Facebook groups is enough and you will be overwhelmed with such offers.

Artificial generation of variants

In order to provide many reviews quickly, sellers often create a large number of variants in a short time, in order to provide the first star or unverified ratings for each variant. Finally, the variants also share the ratings.

In most cases there are only a few differences. And a "product tester" could give not just one, but ten reviews. Some prankster with evil thoughts on his mind.

Use of false images

If the images shown are very similar you should take a look at the reviews too. But if you look at the reviews, it seems that something else is delivered. Here are a few examples from reviews of a fake iphone headphone:

  • "contrary to the Images, a headphone (i7s mini) is delivered with buttons and not with touch function."
  • "delivered were two small boxes with cheap versions that had nothing to do with the pictures and the description".
  • "Product not as shown in the Image. Cheap material, poor quality."
  • "Flashes like a police car, is twice the size of airpods and the quality of the sound is poor."
  • "Unfortunately, you get a different product from what the pictures are showing"

It is precisely the use of Apple's Airpods as an image that makes potential buyers want to buy. This kind of Apple product for only 25 EUR? This makes the heart of every bargain hunter beat faster. The disappointment kicks in when unpacking.

The same thing happened with the iPhone cable in the following picture. Numerous customers complain that the cable does not fit at all.


Unverified Fake Reviews

Figure 4: Fake IPhone Cable

Use of old ASINs

Chinese sellers also like to attach themselves to old, discarded ASINs, e.g. as a further variant of a product family that is no longer used. The practical thing: The reviews are inherited directly. This can often be seen in the reviews that refer to completely different products. But you have to look closely to see this. At first glance, everything looks ok, especially when the first reviews of the new product are received.

Fake orders

Sometimes Chinese sellers place huge fake orders to temporarily block a seller's stock. The sellers then place an offer themselves and in this way they reach the buybox.

Fake Orders
Figure 5: Fake Orders

In the example above, an FBM item costing around 20 EUR was placed in the shopping cart many hundreds of times and the order was then cancelled. A short time later, various Chinese sellers were found on this listing.

Chinese sellers
Figure 6: Chinese Sellers reaching the BuyBox

Coincidence?

Negative reviews

Another criminal method is to generate artificially negative ratings for a product. This often works like this: A seller attaches himself to an existing listing with a - preferably higher price - whose rating is to be "weakened". Now he hires buyers who purchase the product specifically from him, so that the revenue from the purchase benefits him and no one else. The product is usually not shipped. The buyers, however, are refunded the money behind the scenes and also receive the task to leave negative ratings. These can be reviews but also simple star ratings. The latter are even more difficult for the brand owner to question. Negative fake reviews on the other hand can often be recognized as such.

The smaller the number of existing reviews, the fewer negative reviews are needed to lower a rating below 4 stars.

The following table shows how many 1-star ratings are necessary to push a listing from 4.4 to 3.5. Especially for products with less than about 100 ratings comparatively few negative ratings are sufficient.

Reading example: If a listing has 40 ratings with an average of 4.4, only 15 1-star ratings are needed to lower the average to 3.5.

Number of certain ratings Necessary negative ratings
1 1
5 2
10 4
20 8
40 15
80 29
160 58
320 116

The consequences are obvious: the product is bought less frequently, thus decreasing its visibility, making it even less likely to be bought, and the downward spiral takes its course. Products can thus be "shot down" in a targeted manner.

Negative helpful ratings

A seller once reported about this case: a several years old negative evaluation of a product suddenly received many "helpful" or "useful" votes "overnight". As a result, this rating suddenly appeared among the top reviews, which are displayed at the end of the listing and are often read first by potential buyers.

The following example shows a review that has obviously been translated into English from another language. It is unlikely to be helpful for most customers, but nevertheless it received nine votes in a short time.

Fake reviews on Amazon
Figure 6: Fake reviews on Amazon

Whether they are fake or not: In AMALYTIX we monitor the top reviews, so that you can quickly see which of your listings may be experiencing difficulties.

Conclusion

There are several other methods. And not all Chinese sellers are cheaters. There are German sellers who deliberately violate the guidelines as well. One thing remains to be noted: None of this is sustainable. Products that so obviously violate Amazon's guidelines are usually deleted by Amazon. However, this can take a while and a few weeks are often enough for the sellers to make the campaign profitable. Even if the sellers are fully terminated, they often have additional accounts and the "game" starts all over again.

Do you know any other tricks? Send us a mail to info@amalytix.com. Confidentiality is of course guaranteed.

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