Soft toy reviews used to boost headphone ratings on Amazon

Soft toy reviews used to boost headphone ratings on Amazon
(Image credit: Amazon)

Those five-star headphones you’re eyeing up on Amazon could actually be nothing of the sort. That’s because lots of top-rated headphones include reviews of completely unrelated products, an investigation has found.

As reported by the BBC, consumer group Which? found that nine of the 10 best-rated Bluetooth headphones on the retail site include reviews of products including cuddly toys, umbrellas and shower curtains. 

Sellers were able to exploit a loophole in Amazon’s reviews merging policy. This lets them merge reviews from multiple versions of the same product – so you see the same reviews for a white pair of wireless headphones as you do for the same pair in blue, say. But, merging reviews from an unrelated product is against Amazon's terms and conditions because it can be used to artificially inflate a product's overall rating.

Most of the brands featured in the Which? report are not household names, and all are sold by multiple sellers on Amazon. Hence it’s tricky to know whether the brands themselves were guilty of this fraudulent practice.

All of the companies contacted by Which? declined to comment.

Only one pair of Bluetooth headphones in the 10 best rated didn’t feature unrelated reviews. These headphones were made by Bose, and were ranked eighth in the top 10 for their category.

To get an idea of the scale of the problem, the highest-rated pair of Bluetooth headphones in the Which? report had an Amazon’s Choice badge, along with 40 rave reviews. But these reviews weren’t for the headphones themselves, but cuddly toys.

Another had more than 800 reviews of a jigsaw puzzle, while one had over 1000 reviews of a beach umbrella.

"Unscrupulous businesses are exploiting weaknesses with Amazon's review system, leaving shoppers at risk of buying products boosted by thousands of bogus five-star reviews," said Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy. 

The Competition and Markets Authority is currently conducting an investigation into fake online reviews.

An Amazon spokesperson claimed that the site had clamped down on the practice of review merging.

"We have now taken appropriate enforcement action against the product listings and sellers in question,” they said. "We have clear guardrails in place to prevent products from being incorrectly grouped, either due to human error or abuse.

"Our proactive measures detect and block the vast majority of abuse in our store automatically: however, we are disappointed when bad actors evade our system and we will continue to innovate and invest in our tools and processes."

So beware when reading reviews on Amazon. And remember to consult our best headphones guide before you buy.

MORE:

Buy with confidence: the best headphones on Amazon

We bought the best-selling headphones on Amazon for £5: here's our verdict 

Check out the best wireless earbuds 2022: budget and premium

Joe has been writing about tech for 17 years, first on staff at T3 magazine, then in a freelance capacity for Stuff, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Men's Health, GQ, The Mirror, Trusted Reviews, TechRadar and many more (including What Hi-Fi?). His specialities include all things mobile, headphones and speakers that he can't justifying spending money on.

  • toymotor
    I recently reviewed a sub cable on Amazon that had 5 start reviews and it was very poor quality. My not so favourable review was removed by Amazon. I checked and I had not breeched any guidelines but it was rejected nevertheless. I would not buy from them again based on reviews. It seems they'd rather have fake reviews and lose custom than real reviews and lose revenue.
    Reply