Is It Buyer Beware, or Reader Beware?

The Wall Street Journal recently did some investigative reporting on “Amazon’s Choice” products, and the results are at first glance concerning.

Many people, myself included, use Amazon’s Choice as a stamp of approval from Amazon. Such a designation comes in handy when one is trying to decide between tens, if not hundreds, of options when shopping.

Amazon uses an algorithm to decide which products receive such a designation, including factors such as product popularity, availability, customer reviews, pricing, and other factors.

As you might expect, earning such a designation can provide a nice boost to sales for companies; Amazon’s Choice status can quickly garner a 25% bump or more in sales.

The WSJ reporters looked at 54,400 listings at Amazon between August and December that included top listings from among 10 of Amazon’s most-popular categories—clothing, electronics and supplements among them—as well as results of spot checks that searched for brand names and prohibited items.

Of those, 27,100 proved to be Amazon’s Choice items, but there were some red flags raised:

  • AmazonBasics brand had the most Amazon’s Choice badges, 540, of any brand identified by the Journal.
  • Dozens of products failed to meet safety standards, were banned items, and the listings falsely claimed official safety certification.
  • Amazon’s Choice items came up when using some search terms for controlled substances such as steroids and marijuana products.
  • Nearly 1,600 listings showed signs of being manipulated by sellers attempting to obtain the badges—appearing to have tricked Amazon’s algorithm by promoting keywords that were highly specific, were misspelled to capture customers’ mistyping or contained brand names of other items.

So is this a case of caveat emptor – buyer beware?

These results certainly seem concerning, and cast into doubt the usefulness to a buyer of using the “Amazon’s Choice” badge as a useful tool in their decision-making process.

However, there were some comments made that may diminish the negative perception that the story gives to “Amazon’s Choice” designation:

  • There are over 27,000 Amazon Choice items and they find some temporary aberrations.  Amazon’s products are the ‘most favored’ because they comprise 2% of the total.  Really?  It’s nominally true, but really?
  • Just another hit piece on Amazon that all the other sites have the same issue with. We get it, you dislike Amazon.  You don’t have to hide the fact. (another commenter notes that a potential reason for this dislike is that Jeff Bezos owns a competing newspaper.)
  • When a company has untold millions of items in its inventory, mistakes can and will be made. Perhaps the Journal should do a little deeper digging. If you cannot show us this badge is intentionally given to products that are inferior, you are wasting your ink. Further, what is the analysis of the percentage of products that actually get the badge undeservedly? Amazon sells about 120,000,000 products right now (Scrapehero). Your hack piece here covers about 0.00045% of their inventory…and of course, you dug for juicy nuggets… This article is a hack piece intended to attack Amazon and sell WSJ ads…

While all comments can be questioned for their accuracy, I think the above comments certainly put the WSJ story in a different light.

As some other commenters pointed out, the key to buying online is to do your research and take the product reviews and badges with a grain of salt.

So yes, buyer beware, but also, reader beware, not only in terms of product reviews, but also in terms of newspaper stories like this one.

*image from Readers’ Digest

12 thoughts on “Is It Buyer Beware, or Reader Beware?

  1. I am more apt to give weight to reviews than any badges or recommendations from the web site. Even then, the reviews must be given more than a perusing to not be misled. This is what happens when we are lazy and don’t want to do or own homework.


  2. I always assume that “Amazon’s Choice” is similar to those “sponsored ” items or possibly related to “most popular”. I always read the one-star reviews too, but with the thought in mind that some people will always find something to complain about.


    1. One person suggested reading the four-star and two-star reviews to get a better sense of what people think of a product. That way you eliminate the complainers and fake reviews.


  3. I am not a big online shopper, because I like tangible items to determine quality and size. However, when I do buy online, I read the reviews and if all the comments are saying the same thing it’s probably an accurate are review


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