Frugal Living Podcast: Fakespot Part II

Frugal Living Podcast: Fakespot Part II

In this episode of the Frugal Living podcast, host Jim Markus talks with Rob Gross, the COO of Fakespot, about fake reviews and how to spot them. You can listen to the Frugal Living Podcast on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, on Anchor.fm, or anywhere you go to find podcasts.

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Brad’s Deals has a partnership with Fakespot to vet Amazon retailers. We check scores before partnering with Amazon sellers and check scores on deals before we post any. This is just another step we take to ensure you’re getting a quality product from a trustworthy seller. Learn more from the second part of our chat with the COO of Fakespot and read a transcript from this week’s episode below.

Table of Contents

  1. Reviews Are a Form of Marketing
  2. Fighting Back against Fake Reviews
  3. Review Bombing: Not All Fake Reviews Are Positive
  4. Read a Transcript from This Episode
  5. More about the Frugal Living Podcast

Reviews Are a Form of Marketing

fake review marketing
Consumers may not always think of them as such, but for online sellers, reviews are a form of marketing. Some unscrupulous sellers will use reviews as a means of making claims that they couldn’t otherwise make. You frequently see this with supplements. The FDA bars supplement sellers from claiming their products can treat or cure any diseases or conditions. One way these sellers get around this rule is by posting fake reviews where the reviewer claims the supplement cured or treated some kind of medical condition.

Fighting Back against Fake Reviews

review smiley faces
Rob points out that Amazon in particular is doing what it can to fight these types of reviews. It has whole teams that are dedicated to finding suspicious reviews and removing them, but Amazon is a big marketplace. Rob adds that customers can help by reporting suspicious reviews to Amazon’s customer service. They just need to include a link and let customer service know they think some of the reviews could be fake, and Amazon’s team will look into it.

Review Bombing: Not All Fake Reviews Are Positive

review faces on paper
Review bombing is when one seller bombards a competitor’s product with fake bad reviews in order to drive potential customers away from the targeted seller. This technique is often employed when a seller wants to rip off a popular product. They’ll copy the product and bombard the original seller with bad reviews all the while creating fake positive reviews for their own product. The result is that the original product seems like a cheap fake, while the imposter product seems like the safe bet.

Read a Transcript from This Episode

Jim (00:00):
Frugal Living is brought to you by Brad’s Deals. A team of proud consumer advocates who scour the internet every day for the best prices on well, everything. That’s BradsDeals.com.

Jim (00:27):
This podcast is brought to you by Brad’s Deals, a team of real people dedicated to helping consumers. This is part two of an interview with Fakespot COO Rob Gross. If you haven’t yet listened to part one, go back and do that now. Otherwise you’ll be completely lost. What is Fakespot? What’s happening? No, you’ll probably be fine. But either way, if you’re interested in the topic, this is a two-part interview and it might make sense to go back and listen to part one before you jump into part two. I’m Jim Markus.

Rob (01:05):
Hi, I’m Rob Gross. I’m the COO and co-founder of Fakespot.

Jim (01:09):
Obviously there’s no incentive to remove a lot of these things. There’s no real laws that are being enforced to take down fake reviews. One thing that I think is interesting that we don’t talk about as a society often is the idea that reviews, especially on sites like Walmart, Amazon, I mean, I even, most sellers online reviews are a form of marketing. Yes. So many of these companies are using customer reviews to make those claims that they can.

Rob (01:38):
Yeah. So I’m glad, I’m glad you brought that up. We see that all the time with supplements, you see it all the time. So you’re right about that. There’s clear FDA guidelines that you can not say that this will cure any disease. We’ll help you with any kind of ailment and the supplement industry as decided that a way around that the, the nefarious actors, right? There’s actually, there’s actually really good supplement companies. And then there’s just like anything and there’s bad ones. And the way they get around it is it’s exactly what you mentioned. They will use fake reviews to make claims that they want to make, to sell their product, that they can’t make themselves. But what’s, what’s out about it is they’re actually making them because they hired the companies to do the fake reviews or they’ll do a classic fake review thing, which in a, in the actual, um, in a different setting, there’s nothing wrong with them, right?

Rob (02:28):
They’ll ask their friends and family to go on and create fake Amazon accounts. And they’ll give them the script about exactly what they want to say. And then when consumers read this and the sad part about it is when you have a debilitating disease, you will look for anything that will make you feel better, anything that will get rid of it. So you’re preying on people who are already in a vulnerable position, right. To, to, to, to buy your product because based on false claims, because they think it’s actually going to cure their disease, procure their ailment. And I, I just, that’s very disheartening because also you’re, you’re, you’re not, you’re giving people products that won’t do anything and you’re giving them false hope. And I think that’s very wrong.

Jim (03:13):
Yeah, absolutely. Posting reviews as if this is some legitimate truth. Ah, it’s really it’s reprehensible.

Rob (03:20):
Yeah. No, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s not a, it’s not a good practice. And, um, it’s, you would wish the platforms would be on top of it more. I mean, I do have to give Amazon some credit. Amazon is dealing with a, this a massive marketplace and they’ve, they have teams that are looking for this fraud, but it really Amazon’s actually said this, you know, on Twitter or on articles that were featured, that if you see fraud reported to us, right. And a lot of people just won’t report it, but it doesn’t take that long to do that. Like if you’re on a product that clearly is using fake reviews or as clearly peddling something based on lies, you could just email Amazon customer support, put the link in and say, you should check this product out because that’s how we actually think we can help the platforms. Now that’s what Fakespot is looking to do is we’re looking to not only help consumers out, but also just make the platform experience better for everyone. And that includes the legitimate sellers on those platforms. That includes the platform themselves. It’s a very difficult, it’s a very, it’s very much a cat and mouse game. So the more that people can help out the better,

Jim (04:29):
No, that makes sense. And really a call to action that, you know, we really should be doing more of that as consumers. Like if we’re using these sites, like you said, if, if the FTC is the one that’s looking for whistleblower complaints, let’s provide those, let’s provide some ammunition. Yeah.

Rob (04:44):
And, and, you know, and what’s interesting is this actually happened a lot when Corona virus first hit. And there was a lot of fake PPE and, and cures and remedies online, everyone kind of banded together and they’re like, I’m not going to accept this anymore. I’m reporting this. And then, then Amazon took a very, very proactive approach. And they were like, you know what? You’re not allowed to sell any of this stuff. It’s been gated. And if you have it, we’re only going to give it to medical professionals. So kudos to them for doing that. That was recognizing that there was a problem. They stepped right in, they fixed it. So that’s actually a good example of how people can actually rally together and say, I’m not going to deal with this fraud anymore. I’m going to put an end to it.

Jim (05:27):
I, there’s no way I have time to evaluate every review and the way that fixed bot works, it’s not something a human can do in any reasonable amount of time,

Rob (05:38):
But that’s why our Chrome extension is so popular. And we’re going to be, we’re going to be bringing the extension over to other browsers too. Um, because it just allows you to shop basically have real time. E-commerce fraud protection. As you’re shopping, you’re going to get the big spot review grades. You’re going to get the seller ratings. You’ll get review highlights, which I love review highlights. You could just go see exactly what real customers are talking about the product. And like you said, save yourself that time of having to read through all the reviews. And then you’re going to get alternative sellers. If we, if a seller is, is not reliable, we’re going to show you the best seller that’s available. And sometimes what we find funny is sometimes the best seller is Amazon and Amazon is the best price, but they’re not going to show it to you because in their algo, they actually make more money off a different seller. So we’re very proud of Fakespot about the work we’ve done with not only our website and our mobile apps, but our very popular Chrome extension. It saves people a ton of time and money.

Jim (06:33):
When we post something on Amazon at Brad’s deals it by necessity has to go through Vicksburg. We must run it through there, there, there are exceptions of if we’re selling something that is like a brand name sold by a brand name, like it’s fine, whatever. But if it’s, if it’s sold by a company you’ve never heard of before, via Amazon or via Walmart, why not use this extra tool to give you a little bit more peace of mind of like, okay, well now I know at least I can trust these reviews and these specific reviews, if you look more deeply into Vicksburg, which is cool.

Rob (07:06):
Absolutely. Actually that actually brings up a good point and something. We’ll talk about other forms of fake reviews that people don’t know about. And that happens a lot with the, with the big brand names. So big brand names always will stand behind their products. They’ve been around for a very long time, reputable companies, the apples, the L’Oreals of the world, this the name of few Nike they’ll always stand behind their products. What happens to a lot of them is on Amazon or on Walmart is people will leave reviews that have nothing to do with the actual product or nothing to do with the actual company. Right? The complaint is actually about the third party seller that sold them, that product. It’s not about apple, not about, L’Oreal not about Nike it’s that this seller rip me off. So sometimes when people see on Fakespot, they see why this apple product get a C grade, what the explain to them and say, because it’s a mix of reliable and unreliable reviews, and the unreliable reviews are talking about not the product, but the actual selling process themselves.

Rob (08:04):
So good. One thing that happens a lot with apple is apple AirPods, very popular product. People will buy them. They’ll be like, I don’t like them to return them. Well, guess what? Amazon will take that and put that in their used warehouse. And what happens is people will see the price on that. They’ll go, wow, this is a great discount. They’ll ignore the fact that it’s used and coming from the Amazon warehouse, they open the product up and it’s got earwax on it. Well, everyone’s going to be angry about that, but that has nothing to do with the actual product itself. It was your, your choice to buy it used. Maybe you didn’t know. And now you’re upset that it came with ear wax, but that’s not a review. People should read. They should read a review that says, I like the battery life. The sound quality was great. The comfort was great. All the features were fantastic. That’s a reliable review. That’s something that can actually rely on and focus on him to make an educated and informed purchase.

Jim (09:01):
Absolutely. And we we’ve talked on a previous episode, but I think it bears repeating because so many people shop on Amazon, you know, super convenient, you know, free shipping, fast shipping, whatever, all these things, and they have everything, but not many people realize that when you buy something on Amazon, very often, you’re not buying something from Amazon.

Rob (09:23):
Oh, very, very, very, very good point. I love the one again, that real quick, before we get into the, the other form is reviews a point less than no reviews, but that’s an excellent point. A lot of people don’t know that Amazon is made up of over so easily, over 60%, 60% third-party sellers, meaning you and I can form an LLC and start selling anything we want on Amazon. And that now has trickled down into Walmart. eBay has always been third party sellers. And a lot of the owners said they think they’re actually buying it from Amazon. Just like you would go to the grocery store and get your brand name, product off the shelves. No, it’s, it’s. It must, you see sold by Amazon fulfilled by Amazon. It’s coming from someone else it’s coming from a third party seller. So that’s what makes Fakespot seller-rating so important. We make sure that you’re always going to buy from reliable seller because the differences between a reliable seller and someone who is not are very, uh, it’s very, it’s a very big difference.

Jim (10:21):
Amazon doesn’t hide this information. Like it’s just on the right side of the page. We just, a lot of times just ignore it. It just says sold by ships from, and they’ll tell you, you know, sold by cavalier store ships from Amazon were sold by capillary store ships from cavalier store. And you, and you realize I’m not getting this from the Amazon facility. Amazon is only in a very like surface way involved with this transaction at all. In reality, it’s a site I’ve never heard of that I probably never would have shopped through. And that’s why having someone like fake spot can be a game changer for buying things online. Where there other, before we get off that entirely where there other kind of weird fake review style. Yeah, yeah. I

Rob (11:06):
Got that. Good. I got two more ones review bombing. So this is when these are, these are fake negative reviews. So usually what will happen is when someone copies a very popular product, or there is a, um, a much larger company selling a very popular product and someone wants to sell like a similar one, they’ll go into that listing and leave tons of fake negative reviews. So they’ll flood the listing with fake negative reviews. And then what they’ll do is they’ll use up and vote down services to push those fake negative reviews up to the top. So they’ll, up-vote all of those big negative reviews. So the first thing consumers see is all these complaints. So it could be the best product in the world, but a competitor said, you know what? We want to drive everyone to our product. So let’s pump ours with fake positive reviews and let’s our competitors with fake negative reviews and then push those guys up the chain and then put in at the same time, push our fake positive reviews up with oppose. Right. So they’ll just be constantly uploading it down. I mean, it’s just crazy. That’s crazy. Yeah. That it is. It is just, it’s, it’s just insane. But it happens. It happens all the time

Jim (12:16):
Are they’re not just downloading or creating fake negative reviews. They’re also going through and then making those seem like the most legitimate of the reviews on this.

Rob (12:25):
Correct? Correct. So, yeah. So when you, when you have, let’s say you have a product and it’s been getting a lot of real negative reviews and you’ve got to fix that. But what you do is you first do is you go, when you flood it with you, you flooded with fake reviews, big, positive reviews, but in order to get those to the front page of Amazon or front page of Walmart, wherever shopping, so that you have to up-vote those, those positive reviews. So they’ll, up-vote those. And at the same time, they’ll go in they’ll downvote the fake, the real negative reviews. They’ll download those. And then, and then at the competitor side where they put all those, they review bomb them. They’ll upload all of the re the fake negative reviews upload them. So they show up at the top and then they’ll, downvote the real positive reviews. It’s crazy, but it happens.

Jim (13:11):
And it just speaks to the importance of consumer vigilance. Again, you know, until there’s oversight, we need to watch out for each other and make sure we’re speaking up about this.

Rob (13:20):
Absolutely. Jim, I’ll never forget what I saw on Sephora. It was hysterical because someone left a real review about the product and it was actually like a really well-written review. It explained everything about this cosmetic. And it was like a three and a half star review. And it got, downvoted like 500 times I’m watching this and I’m going, oh, look at what’s up top. It’s a glowing five star review. They got up voted 800 times. So this, this company was so mad about this real 3.5 star review that actually said, don’t buy the product. I’m just giving you my real opinion that they downloaded it over 500 times and I’m going, this is insanity.

Jim (14:02):
Sure. Rich story happening behind the scenes. Sometimes that we never know. We never realize unless you’re really looking close.

Rob (14:08):
Absolutely. That’s that’s and that’s, that’s my number one advice to anyone out there shopping is just take the extra time, you know, to go through and look at the reviews before you buy anything. Right. Of course you speak spot, install, Fakespot. It will save you a lot of time, but just so you actually can see Fakespot and work and action, right. And go down and look at the reviews. If we give something a bad grade, go check them out because you’ll see what we’re, what we’re doing. You’ll see what you’ll see what we’re catching. And if you, if you are shopping online, even if you have a big spot installed, take the extra time to make sure that the seller is legit and you’re not being lied to, it will just save you a lot of time and frustration. There’s been stories, uh, after the holidays of people buying products that were based on fake reviews and had glowing five star reviews, and they come back to Amazon after the holidays and they see that they’ve been all taken down and the product is actually a one-star product.

Rob (15:07):
You got to just using a little bit extra time, because remember shopping online, you can’t touch and you can’t feel the product. So you have to go off the opinion of others. Another thing to do, ask your family and friends. If they have bought the product, there’s nothing better than a recommendation from somebody, you know, and that always, I always do that. Um, and I’ve never been, I’ve never made a bad purchase asking your friends and family. And then of course there are professional reviewers that you trust. Uh, I used to always back in the day, rely on Walt Mossberg. When I was looking to buy new electronics, if there’s someone you trust and you trust their judgment and opinion, definitely read what they think about products, because that will also save you a lot of time, money and frustration.

Jim (15:49):
This was really informative. And honestly, Rob, it’s a, it’s a pleasure to talk to you.

Rob (15:54):
Jim. Thank you very much for having me on the podcast. And I hope that we were able to help out all your listeners save some money when they’re shopping online.

Jim (16:03):
Special. Thanks to Rob Gross. H. Borkowski is our story editor and Sydney Smith helped with a bunch of these interviews. Also, thanks to Lauren Lee for setting up this conversation. If you would like Frugal Living, please share it with a friend or leave us a review on iTunes. Thanks for listening.

More about the Frugal Living Podcast

To hear more from Rob about fake reviews and how Fakespot works to find them, check out the latest episode of Frugal Living.

Frugal Living is a podcast for smart consumers. How do you spend less and get more? The show, sponsored by Brad’s Deals, features interviews, stories, tips, and tricks. Jim Markus hosts season two, out now.