VIP Deals, an Amazon merchant, has been caught offering customers a refund in exchange for five-star reviews. A report in The New York Times yesterday detailed how customers that purchased a $9.99 (reduced from $59.99) leather case for the Kindle Fire received a letter with their case. The letter offered to refund the cost of the order in return for the customer writing a review. The merchant also dropped a subtle hint on which score was expected, stating "we strive to earn 100 percent perfect 'FIVE-STAR' scores from you!" The ploy seemed to be effective, with 310 out of 335 reviews rating the product 5 stars. The New York Times sent Amazon a copy of the letter, who said this practice was against their guidelines, and have now deleted the product from their site, along with VIP Deals other listings, which had similar levels of positive feedback.
Astroturfing like this is unfortunately commonplace, and even household names have been found faking reviews. Perhaps the most famous case in recent memory came two years ago, when Belkin was caught hiring people at $0.65 per review to give positive feedback on their products and, perhaps worse, negative feedback on their competitors offerings. So while it's nice to marvel posthumously at the lengths some companies will go to just to get some buzz about a product, it's worth bearing this in mind next time you're looking at feedback to decide which of those cables you'll be purchasing.