While most of us object to politicians or law enforcement officials taking bribes, it turns out that the public is quite happy to be complicit in corrupt behavior.
Amazon has been forced to delete hundreds of reviews after a newspaper revealed that the customers — while genuine — had effectively been bribed to write the positive comments.
The New York Times told Amazon about the issue after completing an investigation into VIP Deals, a company that ran what it must have assumed was a great business scheme, only to get cut off before it could cash in.
The company was selling a leather case for the Kindle Fire tablet at $10, a great deal given its list price is sixty bucks. But although this sounds like a deal too good to be true, it wasn’t a scam itself: those who ordered did indeed receive the advertised case.
It’s what came with it that was the problem. The company enclosed a letter offering a full refund of the $10 purchase price if they left a review on Amazon.
As the Times notes, the letter didn’t explicitly tell customers to leave a five star review. However, even for those buyers who didn’t infer that the bribe was designed to entice a positive review, most people who pay $10 for a $60 product are inherently going to have a very positive view of it unless it’s completely useless.
It certainly seemed to have done the trick. At one stage 310 of the 335 reviews of the case gave a five star rating and one user who posted a review objecting to the operation was quickly met with criticism from other reviewers. The company as a whole racked up almost 5,000 reviews, with an average rating of 4.9.
What exactly VIP Deals hoped to achieve in the long run isn’t clear, but at the very least the wealth of positive reviews could help boost sales if and when it offered products at more sustainable prices.
Contacted about the operation, Amazon first deleted the reviews then the product listing. It’s not commented on why it didn’t notice the pattern or take any notice of the reviewers that did highlight the way the company was doing business.